Joni Mitchell, Joni Mitchell Archives Vol. 1: The Early Years 1963-1967, (Rhino)
“Someone told me there’s a girl out there, with love in her eyes and flowers in her hair”
– Led Zeppelin, “Going To California
When dear old Robert Plant moaned those lines, THIS is the Joni he was talking about. Not the aged recluse who hates Bob Dylan. Not the jazz hep cat with the beret scatting about the hissing of summer lawns. It was this Joni, the one on Rhino’s massive and much needed Early Joni collection, the one with the flowing blond locks and the toothy smile and the two cats in the yard in the Laurel Canyon sun. If you’re into that type of thing, then this is the release of the year hands down, capturing the real queen’s very early earnest folkie demos and tracking her transition into early hippie-isms until just before her first LP. The amazing thing to focus on here is how instantly the southern Californian sun transformed a hesitant-sounding, perfectly-capable-but-not-particularly-striking folk singer into a thoroughly transcendent entity seemingly instantly. There is nothing in the 1963 material from Canadian radio and pass-the-hat coffee shop floors that would suggest this person would one day soon be recording Song To A Seagull Ladies Of The Canyon, although a spark can be detected in her stubborn refusal to stick to the covers (folkie sacrilege, apparently), sneaking in original songs to deafening silence from the unforgiving folkie hoards. Things start getting really interesting on the two home tapes recorded around this time (probably in a bare bones apartment with a mattress on the floor and a single stick on incense burning in an empty wine bottle, btw), one of which reveals Joni’s best early song, the unfortunately obscure “Urge For Going”. By the third disc we’re starting to hear stunners like “Both Sides Now” and “The Circle Game” creeping in, and with a definitive version of her homie Neil’s “Sugar Mountain” at a club in Philadelphia the fairy dust is well and truly sprinkled. By 1967 we have the Joni Mitchell the Golden God was wailing about, as the NYC demo from that year illustrates, with all the unconventional tunings and swooping, soaring, grating voice we all have grown to adore. We also get to hear just how funny Joni was/is. A tape from a 1967 gig somewhere in Michigan may as well be a standup performance, with Joni tossing out a surprising amount of acute irreverence for someone who was still identifying as a mere folk singer. From this point out, Joni would not be a mere anything, let alone a mere human, and this collection thoroughly and entertainingly documents her ascendance to godhood.