Joni Mitchell, born Roberta Joan Anderson on November 7, 1943, not only defies description as an artist and musician but also set the standard when it came to young, innocent, wide-eyed female folkies dressed in peasant dresses and tattered jeans, obsessed with wanderlust, patchouli, and all forms of winsome sentiments.
Like other Canadian expatriates who were to make their mark on Americana in the late '60s -- Neil Young, Leonard Cohen, Ian and Sylvia, the Band, Gordon Lightfoot, etc. -- she would help redefine the essence of folk music and bring it flush and fresh-faced to the Woodstock brigades with all appropriate reverence. Indeed, her personal involvement with the likes of David Crosby and Graham Nash (it's said Nash wrote the song "Our House" to commemorate their domestic bliss) made her the honorary earth mother to the hippie faithful. She even gave them their immortal anthem and signature song, "Woodstock," although it took Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young to imbue it into mass consciousness after she wrote it based on news reports, because she failed to make the actual festival.
And while she gave rock and pop any number of sentimental standards --
"The Circle Game," "Both Sides Now," "Big Yellow Taxi," "Free Man in
Paris," "River," and "Urge for Going" being but a handful -- she showed an
uncommon willingness to negate commercial success and boldly venture
into jazz, fusion, orchestration, and avant-garde in her pursuit of her
Mitchell herself as been equally elusive in recent years, rarely venturing out to make live appearances or new recordings and mostly confining her creative impulses to painting, another realm that shows her possessing an incredible gift. And if the high-cheek-boned prairie princess has now evolved into a more sophisticated chanteuse, her appeal and allure remain undiminished. Still, it's an incredibly tangled path that Mitchell has surveyed from her idyllic origins nearly 45 years ago, and keeping track of those twists and turns isn't all that easy, even for diehard devotees. Here, then, is our guide to a few of her early essential albums.
Various greatest-hits packages -- including companion pieces titled Hits and Misses -- would serve as reminders of the indelible imprint she had on the boomer generation, but Both Sides Now, a lush set of standards, including a couple of her own, "A Case of You" and the title track; and Travelogue, another orchestrated retread, provided diminishing returns. Her last album of original material, Shine, was delivered four years ago, and her recent revelation that she suffers from a mysterious ailment called Morgellons disease that supposedly leaves its sufferers with psychotic side effects leaves doubts as to whether she'll ever record again. In fact, in one of her last interviews, she claimed she would be leaving the music industry forever. All the reason to hope that she'll play her own Circle Game and somehow make a welcome return.