What is known to be as one of Joni Mitchell’s most important works, Ladies Of The Canyon was released 30 years ago and housed revolutionary songs like “Big Yellow Taxi” and “Woodstock.” Filled with overdubs and rich lyrics, the album beamed through the bright sound of the ‘60s LA while the poetical nature of the album foreshadowed the paradoxical sense of isolation that is to come with fame. On her third studio album, Mitchell’s constantly morphing voice hits the new highs following the complex relationship between the musician and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Sonically, this joyously delusional release is filled with personality and stories, paying the homage to the Woodstock generation.
The phenomenon of the album is the visual intensity the listener experiences from the vocals with constant company of the guitar or piano. Drenched in emotion, the simplistic sound of “For Free” is also the metamorphism of the musician’s piano ability. As Mitchell sings about the man who “played real good on his clarinet for free. Now me, I play for fortune,” her signature feather-like touch simultaneously delivers sympathy and a sense of desolation. Essentially every song on the album is a flawless screenplay waiting for the adaptation, with “Ladies of Canyon” being no exception. The track of ordinary contextual simplicity is a poetic masterpiece “pouring music down the canyon, coloring the sunshine hours.” Whether the musician realized it or not, the lyrics perfectly describe the feeling experienced by the listener throughout the song.
Being the narrator that she is, the musical connoisseur delivered a handful of delicately crafted and timeless songs. As a result, no matter who the listener is, they are bound to find themselves as the subject within one of the compositions. That is the pure power of Joni Mitchell – the cupid of contemplation. Her compassionate nature has a compelling influence on the musical arrangements sending the message at the speed of light in “The Arrangement.” As she delivers the famous line ‘while you still have time, you could get away and find a better life,” the anxiousness of the addressee is transferred right onto the audience. Mitchell’s ability to sonically convey that sense of urgency together with the chilling calmness is yet to be matched.
Ladies Of The Canyon sees the musician on a metaphorical self-discovery journey. Whether it is through the internal sense of isolation or dependence, that feeling seeps through in ‘Rainy Night House’. The intimate compilation does not really give a second for a breather as Mitchell sets the scene: “I sat up all night and watched thee, to see who in the world I might be.” This is the immortal situational development without any elasticity that makes Joni Mitchell be the legend that she is to this day. As humans, we are constantly looking for a sense of elevation and belonging, something the artist understood before anyone else and perfectly described in ‘Woodstock’ with just one line “I have come here to lose the smog and I feel to be a cog in something turning.” The luminous string accompanying the gentle background emphasizes the underlying message, giving it the center stage attention.
The album goes through an incredible enhancement of the impassioned weight with each track, hitting the climax during “Blue Boy.” The gradually cultivating sorrow creeps up without any hesitation keeping the listener in the dark until it is no longer possible. There are no words to convey the rhythmic rawness amplified by the deeply rooted piano that submerges the audience in a mystified state. But the upbeat nature comes right back in “Big Yellow Taxi,” bearing a sense of cheerfulness that clouds one’s perception of the lyrical intellect. Just like the song, the audience is unable to realize that is actually happening until it is over.
The auditory naiveness is long forgotten as the childish imagery fades only to be replaced by the grown-up philosophy, as Mitchell lays it all out: “we’re captive on the carousel of time” in “The Circle Game.” It is the perfect coming of age song for the acceptance of change, as the melody covers the anxiousness of it all with a warm blanket.
Her true talent is not in the vocals or instrumental ability, it’s not in her looks or style. Joni Mitchell is the talent herself; she was back in 1970 with Ladies Of The Canyon and she still remains one to this day.