on 29 April 2007
LOTC was my intitation into the world of Joni Mitchell. Fourteen years old, with romantic notions about Woodstock as it approached the twentieth anniversary, I searched out the cassette to hear what Graham Nash had described.
The "Woodstock" anthem was the catalyst for LOTC success, but it is by no means the only, or even best, tune this effort offers. "Morning Morgantown" sets the scene for a recording that basically takes the listener through a pastoral panorama. Along the way are some observations about the intrusion of art meets commerce ( "For Free"), manipulative triangles ( " Conversation"), Gender roles ( the stunning " Arrangement"), and spiritual quest ( " The Priest"). Of course, another career launcher, " Big Yellow Taxi", graces this album, as well as Mitchell's camp classic " The Circle Game".
This might possibly be the best introduction one could have to Ms. Mitchell's extraordinary canon. Then, working back to the first two, already exquisit work will be found. Proceeding forward, the genuis takes shape. LOTC is music for mellowing.
Joni's third album is a massive leap forwards in terms of quality, melodically stronger, musically more adventurous, thematically there is a wider range, and it is also lyrically sharper. Blue may be the more critically acclaimed and overshadows much of her other work, but this is equally flawless and indeed contains more famous songs. Her first big hit Big Yellow Taxi is here, as well as one of the defining songs of the Sixties `Woodstock'. With this album Joni became the spokesperson for a generation and every song both sounds eternally rooted in the days they were written, and as fresh and relevant today. Ladies conveys the freedom and ideals of the Hippy movement, but is also full of the darker introspection which would fill her next album. At turns joyous and bleak, and never less than mesmerizing Ladies Of The Canyon is an album which stands high above the singer-songwriter offerings of today and is one which every music lover should hear.
`Morning Morgantown' opens the album in storybook style with Joni telling us about an idyllic morning in a small town, who she sees and everything that happens. With pleasant melodies, soft guitar accompanied by soothing piano in the chorus it is an elegant opener which has more in common with her previous album.
`For Free' is my favourite song on the album and the first which is primarily dominated by the piano. Casting many shadows with its atmosphere it speaks of the dark side of fame, causing loss of self, selfishness, guilt. Self-deprecating, ironic, and supremely descriptive the lyrics are among Joni's best. Avoiding a standard verse chorus convention the song grows in depth as it continues, with subtle strings added in the second half, and the piano melodies varying with each line to avoid repetition. The only part I'm not overly fond of is the horn ending hinting at her growing jazz influences which would become more prevalent after Blue.
`Conversation' is a more light hearted and upbeat song, even though it deals with unrequited love. The lyrics speak of a woman trying to `free' a man from what she believes is a one sided, futile relationship. Essentially she is acting as the other woman but you can't help but side with her with melodies and passion like this. This also features possibly the best vocal vibrato in any song ever with Joni using her voice like an additional instrument more so than anything else she has done. Like `For Free' it has an unusual expansive ending which adds greater depth and variation, again showing her own growth and experimentation.
`Ladies Of The Canyon' follows Joni's usual story telling format, introducing us to a number of characters and providing us with their routines and quirks. The unusual tuning which marks the album stands out here mixed with her finger picking and harmonious `do di dos'. This seems like a sequel to `Morning Morgantown' and as the title track it contains most of the characteristics of the album as a whole.
`Willy' is an unashamed song of devotion, without a hint of irony and remains utterly charming and powerful today. Joni's vocal melodies mixed with those of the piano is one of the most wonderful things to happen in musical history, never more beautiful than here as it builds up to `there are still more reasons why I love him'. As with the rest of the album there is the background hint of darkness due in part to the tone of the piano and a few lyrical flourishes. It is one of the best underrated love songs ever.
`The Arrangement' brings any hints of darkness from previous songs to the forefront. The soft, unsure, unsteady opening revealing the uncertainties and regrets of the narrator. Speaking of loss, it is quite a quick song but leaves a lasting impression with the fade out vocals of `it could have been more'. For some reason the double notes played frequently throughout the song remind me of the rainy intro to A Link To The Past.
`Rainy Night House' continues the dark themes, with soft background strings adding to the ominous piano. The almost overlong piano intro is perfect, evoking feelings of gazing out from a window into a rainy night. There are many wonderful vocal moments (`the upstairs choir') and again everything blends together seamlessly. Again there is a sense of loss and regret, speaking of a past which can never be regained. Again there is an unusual ending, dissect it any way you like.
`The Priest' brings back Joni's guitar skills with a tale of freedom, searching, religion, and ever so small hints of a drug infused trip. The rhythm here is interesting, thumping ever onwards giving a sense of an eternal journey. Again it reminds me of other works, in this case the movie version of Stephen King's The Stand.
`Blue Boy' is another atmospheric piano led song with Joni's vocals deliberately almost breaking in parts to give a sense of fragility. As always the lyrics are open for interpretation with suggestions of love of sadness yet yearning for recovery, loss, war, mourning.
`Big Yellow Taxi' is the song you will probably have heard in some form even if you haven't heard this album or any other Joni song. I like the way Joni's voice sounds completely different on this song than any other on the album- she sounds more like a child. The immortal melody is pop brilliance, the lyrics all the more important today, the sound completely joyous and filled with a love for life.
`Woodstock' is Joni's song for a generation, speaking not only of the famous festival which she never attended but watched on TV, but of the movement as a whole. Almost every lyric here has been used as the title of another song/movie/biography/documentary about the times, from `We are stardust' to `Child of God'. Haunting at times, Woodstock is one of the most memorable songs on the album.
`The Circle Game' closes the album in a suitably cyclical way, sounding at times like Morning Morgantown but having its own wonderful tune. Singing of the life of one man, from birth to death, signifying life as a whole it may be the best song on the record. Everything is perfection; vocals, instruments, lyrics. While some may smirk at the sentiment everything is played straight. Rarely can a song capture a feeling, thought, or idea so well as here.
Overall Ladies Of The Canyon is a must have. Not only is it historically important and endlessly influential, it has some of the best writing and best music ever recorded. This would go on to be the bench mark for all folk music, for all female vocalists, and for all singer songwriters. Blue would follow this, an equally special album and perhaps even better due to the step forward in experimentation and the wider variety of music and influences she would display.
on 24 December 2014
I had this LP as a kid, and digitization made me pass it by until now.
Anyway, this is to Joni's Blue what Led Zep III is to IV.
A fascinating snapshot of Canyon life in the post-hippie era, Joni pulls no punches - lyrically, harmonically and melodically. The stereo mastering is faithful to the recording - especially lovable are the plosives on the mic where she sings. No emotion is wasted.
BTW, for this period, check out Frank Zappa video, where Joni is part of the gang.
on 7 January 2013
With her strong voice and often quavering tones, Joni Mitchell was - for the 1960's and 1970's - the ultimate folk songstress of her generation. This album contains some of her greatest tunes - most of which she also wrote - including the title song, "Ladies of the Canyon," which is still well-beloved today. Her most well-known tune - made popular by Crosby, Stills, and Nash in 1969 - "Woodstock" is also included. Mitchell writes songs which talk about the confusion, frustration, and sometimes pain of interacting with others - though not in a whiny way, but is reflective of her own feelings and how she found the best way to come to terms with those feelings, and ultimately with people and humanity. These early songs are on this album, and along with "Court and Spark," one of her following albums, shows a maturity of a young singer of the "Boomer" generation coming to terms with life, love, work and just getting along in the world. Brilliant album, and recommended.
Released in 1970, ‘Ladies of the Canyon’ sees Joni deepening and widening her songwriting skills to explore love & romance with ‘Willy’ (about Graham Nash) and ‘The Conversation’ and coming-of-age with the catchy ‘The Circle Game’.
Besides personal introspection, she reflects on the Woodstock Generation with ‘Woodstock’; CSNY’s more upbeat interpretation of the song became an international hit single, but Joni’s original is slower, quieter and altogether more poignant. CSNY supply vocal harmonies on many tracks here.
For the first time on LotC Joni used piano as the main accompanying instrument to many songs for a more reflective ‘indoor’ sound, in contrast to the more open-air & upbeat folk-guitar soundscape of songs like ‘Big Yellow Taxi’, the album’s unexpected hit single. This endows the collection with more light-and-shade than evident on the first two albums, and in overall style points the way to her fourth album, the magnificent classic ‘Blue’ where her true genius became obvious.
on 22 April 2002
Joni Mitchell's third album, 'Ladies Of The Canyon', sounds miles better than some of the music around today - 32 years after its original release in the spring of 1970.
The songs here represent the more folkie Joni, but there are jazz elements that would develop further on later works such as 'The Hissing Of Summer Lawns' and 'Hejira'.
"Morning Morgantown" is a pretty, uplifting folkie ballad and one of the highlights. "For Free" and "Willy" display the best of the album's ballads while "Conversation" is probably the most upbeat thing to be found and is the story of an impending love triangle.
"Big Yellow Taxi" offers an irresistible hook, "The Priest" is Joni working at some of her most eerie stuff, the classic "Woodstock" is just pure unique and the closing "The Circle Game" is another folkie tune, written in 1966. The wonderfully fascinating title track is another of 'Ladies Of The Canyon''s highlights.
The more forgettable tunes come in the shape of the Joni ballad - "Rainy Night House", "Blue Boy" and "The Arrangement" have trouble sticking in your head but they are not entirely useless, showing off Joni's songwriting brilliance well.
With all but two of the songs written in the 1960s, you get the feel of an earlier, folkie Joni Mitchell on 'Ladies Of The Canyon'. 1971's 'Blue' moved her from folkie to rock legend, something she would carry up with her through the following decades, constantly trying out new music.
Joni Mitchell is one of the best artists of all time, and this startling collection proves it!