REVIEW: Joni Mitchell’s “Archives Vol. 1: The Early Years” Captures Master Songwriter in Pure Folk Idiom


The early stuff, I shouldn’t be such a snob against it. A lot of these songs, I just lost them. They fell away. They only exist in these recordings. For so long I rebelled against the term, ‘I was never a folksinger.’ I would get pissed off if they put that label on me. I didn’t think it was a good description of what I was. And then I listened and…it was beautiful. It made me forgive my beginnings. And I had this realization… I was a folksinger!  – Joni Mitchell

Every now and again an artist sinks their proverbial teeth into you and just won’t let go. Joni Mitchell is one of those for me. There’s a certain spell that she casts upon me that’s inexplicable and always has been. So, with that in mind, I’ve been recently quite enamored and occupied diving into Rhino Records’ Joni Mitchell Archives Vol. 1: The Early Years 1963-1967 set. This isn’t your run of the mill, dusty old vault recordings that record companies pass off as being the must have of the year. Hell no. What Rhino Records has put together here is a collection that’s been lovingly and likely, painstakingly put together. It’s a set that is fitting of one of the music world’s most important songwriters.

Released on October 30th, the set chronicles the earliest recordings of one Joni Anderson, later to become the incomparable Joni Mitchell. Compiled of recordings from friends, acquaintances and Mitchell’s own personal archives, this set is not really geared towards the casual listener. With nearly 6 hours of music, spread over 5 discs and 119 songs, this is Mitchell at her barest and most vulnerable. It’s an early glimpse of a master songwriter captured in a pure folk idiom. There’s plenty of humor, awkwardness and more than anything, a sense of comfort associated with these recordings. Disc one begins with a 9 song set recorded in 1963 by DJ Barry Bowman via radio station CFQC AM in Saskatoon, Canada. Next, this first disc continues with both sets from The Half Beat in Yorkville, Toronto on October 21st, 1964, and closes with 4 songs recorded by Mitchell at her parent’s home in Saskatchewan in early ’65.

Moving on to disc two, we discover a collection of more live sets, demos and TV performance recordings. The highlight for me here was a set from the 2nd Fret in Philadelphia in 1966. Just stunning introductions and versions of songs like “Urge For Going”, “Circle Game” and “Night in the City”. Disc three kicks off and ends with a Folklore WHAT FM Philadelphia segment which includes early recordings from Both Sides Now and a brilliant version of Neil Young’s “Sugar Mountain”, another pair of sets from the 2nd Fret, this time in ’67, as well as a friend’s birthday show performance.  Disc four opens with a mesmerizing group of  home demos from New York in 1967, followed by the first set from Ann Arbor Michigan’s Canterbury House in October of ’67. Disc 5 closes things out with the second and third sets from the Canterbury House.

As mentioned, this collection might not be for the casual listener, but that shouldn’t exclude anyone either. This is one of those sets one could easily and enjoyably play throughout the day while doing necessary chores and such. The recording quality does fluctuate here and there, but overall the set has been rendered masterfully. The review copy I received was digital, but did also include Hi-Res files of the accompanying booklet, photos and notes. It’s an engrossing and fascinating compilation and I could think of no better way to enjoy a cool autumn day than thumbing through it’s contents as it played in the background. I can’t wait to see what Volume 2 will have to offer. Get your copy now and unearth more information from Joni Mitchell here:

Additionally, dive into Rhino Records extensive collection of incredible music here:

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