[Review] Joni Mitchell: Clouds (1969)

Her second album contains two of her best: “Chelsea Morning” and “Both Sides, Now.”

Kronomyth 2.0: The cirrus second album.

The songs on Clouds are sere and bitter with strands of sweetness. There is no accompaniment to speak of; a multitracked mandolin on “Roses Blue” and the a capella “The Fiddle And The Drum” are the exceptions to songs that otherwise feature Joni Mitchell singing and playing the acoustic guitar. Her first album had a presence, a resonance really, that allowed Joni’s music to ring in your head and fill the empty spaces. You’ll encounter some of that on Clouds—“Chelsea Morning,” “Both Sides, Now,” “Songs To Aging Children Come”—but mostly the material is quiet, barren, even bleak.

I had a similar reaction to her next few albums, as though the natural musicality of her muse now arrived stillborn. Whether it was a newfound confidence that allowed her to present her songs so unadorned, or the prickliness common to genius, is hard to say. Joni Mitchell was a charming record, and while songs like “Chelsea Morning” and “The Gallery” are beguiling in the best way, Clouds is the work of a serious artist. The opening “Tin Angel,” for example, is downright daring in its embrace of darkness.

The album’s warm reception is likely the beneficiary of Joni Mitchell’s rising star and the album’s two recognizable songs, “Chelsea Morning” and “Both Sides, Now.” The rest of the record is often quiet, occasionally disquieting, punctuated by lyrical and, less often, musical epiphanies. If this were Bob Dylan, we’d be talking about New Morning or John Wesley Harding. Her next album, Ladies of the Canyon, picked from a slightly wider palette of sounds, notably the piano, so you may want to skip ahead if you’re just getting acquainted with Joni, but you’ll come around to Clouds eventually because, when she’s good, she’s very very good.

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Original LP Version

A1. Tin Angel (4:06)
A2. Chelsea Morning (2:30)
A3. I Don’t Know Where I Stand (3:10)
A4. That Song About The Midway (4:33)
A5. Roses Blue (3:47)
B1. The Gallery (4:06)
B2. I Think I Understand (4:22)
B3. Songs To Aging Children Come (3:03)
B4. The Fiddle And The Drum (2:45)
B5. Both Sides, Now (4:30)

All compositions and arrangements by Joni Mitchell.

The Players

Engineered by Henry Louie (Lewy). “Tin Angel” produced by Paul Rothchild.

The Pictures

Cover art by Joni Mitchell. Art direction by Ed Thrasher.

The Plastic

Released on elpee, 8-track and reel-to-reel on May 1, 1969 in the US (Reprise, RS/8RM 6341/RST 6341-8) {two-tone label} and in October 1969 in the UK (Reprise, RSLP-6341) with gatefold cover (no gatefold, lyrics innersleeve in the UK); reached #31 on the US charts (RIAA-certified gold record). 8-track and R2R both feature a different track order.

  1. Re-issued on elpee and cassette in 1971 in the US (Reprise, RS 6341) {brown, stereo at bottom label}, the UK (Reprise, K/K4 44070) and Japan (Warner/Pioneer, P-8100R) with gatefold cover (no gatefold, no lyrics innersleeve in the UK).
  2. Repackaged with Blue on 2-for-1 cassette in 1982 in the US (Reprise, 4-23713).
  3. Re-issued on compact disc and cassette in the US (Reprise, 6341-2/M5 6341).
  4. Re-issued on compact disc in 1986 in Germany (Reprise, 27446-2).
  5. Re-issued on compact disc on May 25, 1998 in Japan (Reprise, WPCR-2598).
  6. Re-packaged with Blue and Hejira on 3-for-1 3CD in 2003 in Australia (Warner, 9362480422).
  7. Re-released super high material compact disc on August 26, 2009 in Japan (Reprise, WPCR-13605).

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