on July 2, 2004
Apart from BLUE, most of the people who know the music of Joni Mitchell appreciate, above all, COURT AND SPARK (1974) and HEJIRA (1976). I won't blame it on them - those are beautiful, elegant albums. Nevertheless, I consider the trilogy formed by LADIES OF THE CANYON (1970), BLUE (1971) and FOR THE ROSES (1972), one of the finest works in pop music. The first chapter, released in April of 1970, is a group of songs written between 1966 and 1969. It is for this reason that the LP is like a summary, a compound of the best pieces she has written up to then. The lyrics go from the intimistic tone to protest and accuse, to just simply storytelling. "Willy" forewarns the tones of BLUE - it's a beautiful song about inadequacy in a relationship, in which is clearly perceptible a sense of impotence even in front of an immense love that makes her feel "like a shiny light breaking in a storm". Or "Conversation", in which she plays the part of someone's lover's lover and she's so in love that makes you feel in love too. On the other hand, songs like "The Arrangement" and "Big Yellow Taxi" develope a clear accuse against modern life abuses and consumer mentality. Together with these are some lyrics that remind the ones belonging to her first two albums, such as "Morning Morgantown" - which is obviously connected with "Chelsea Morning", in CLOUDS (1969).
For what the music is concerned, it's a great step forward in Mitchell's growth as a musician; while her first two albums were based quite exclusively on acoustic guitar, for the first time here we can hear not only the piano - an instrumet which Joni wouldn't play for a long time - but also percussions, a jazzy clarinet (on the final notes of "For Free"), a sax, a flute and a cello.
So, to conclude, Joni paints stories and personal feelings with a taste of free innocence. Maybe the best thing about this album is just that it is open, free. It represents the most sincere and deep expression of her thoughts. Hence, the reason why I consider LADIES OF THE CANYON her best album is because there's a variety of themes and tones that you can't find in her other works, neither in BLUE, nor in COURT AND SPARK, nor in HEJIRA.
on October 1, 2001
There's really no serious debate among fans of Joni or pop-rock in general as to what her best album is - all those who have ears to hear proclaim the monumentally great Blue her high watermark. The real argument is over which disc ranks second best. Most fans and critics say Court and Spark holds that honor. I think it's unquestionably Ladies of the Canyon.
This is the album on which Joni cuts loose most confidently with the pure instrument which is the high end of her soprano range. In fact, part of Blue's greatness is in its retention of that singing style. However, her singing on this album is perhaps unique among her catalog for the innocence it conveys on many of the songs. This is without a doubt her last "flower child" album, and perhaps the one most deserving of the appellation.
While the album's mood bears some resemblence to Clouds, the differences and advancement over that album are revealed in the first track. Joni's rich acoustic guitar tones and girlish vocal approach familiarly carry the verse; then, in the chorus, a welcome new sound - the crystalline, icewater tones of a piano. The album unfolds with arrangements which convey at once a spare innocence and a gorgeous, multihued flexibility. I think that it is her best-arranged album (only Blue and Hejira really come close). The second song, "For Free," exemplifies why, using a cello and lovely syncopated clarinet solo to supplement Joni's vox and piano in a celebration of the spirit of musical expression.
What else makes Ladies of the Canyon a sublime masterpiece? Well, "Big Yellow Taxi" is probably the funnest, most life-giving musical expression in Joni's entire corpus - a shrewdly jaunty way of conveying a sobering message. "The Arrangement"'s haunting suspended piano chords treat hippie capitulation to the yuppie ruse as a profound tragedy - the stuffed shirt Joni so mournfully and movingly laments "Coulda been more/ than a name on the door/ on the 33rd floor/ in the air" - so much potential, but now he's dead to Joni, to the world of spirit and beauty, to himself. A masterpiece. The Clouds-esque "Ladies of the Canyon" celebrates the various faces of womanhood with three vivid character sketches - friends of Joni's from Laurel Canyon?
Meanwhile, some of Joni's best reports from the love front find their home here. "Conversation"'s strums foretell "BYT" while relating a story of an unhappily-married man rendezvousing with Joni to cry on her shoulder. I can taste the apples and cheeses. At the end, it erupts into overdubbed choral chanting, flute glissandos and a smoky bari sax solo. "Willy" forecasts Joni's future fusion-inspired work with its rubato, syllable-squeezing vocal approach. Willy is the man Joni actually wants to settle down with (!!!), but he's too emotionally damaged and shiftless to commit. Idiot. "Rainy Night House" brings the cello back to provide a subtle bottom to Joni's piano as she sings evocatively of the beginnings of a fling with a silver spoon dropout. In "Blue Boy," written in the third person, a woman looks for love from a cold "blue boy" interested in sex and little else. He starts out figuratively as a statue; she ends up one as his interest cools. Musically, this foreshadows Blue, with Joni singing sorrowfully at the top of her range, and letting her voice break movingly at the end of the long phrases at the end of each verse.
Joni's version of "Woodstock" is not my favorite song on the disc, but its impressionistically anthemic generational claims sound less silly from Joni than from anyone else. It makes me ALMOST wish I was a Baby Boomer. Almost.
Ladies of the Canyon's best song is also its oldest, the closing "Circle Game," which dates from 1966 and had been covered multiple times by the time she released her own version. Its poignantly sweet campfire singalong fable of the inability to stay the passage of time still suggests that childhood dreams can come true. It paints and seals this masterpiece collection of songs, with all of its emotional twists and turns, with a gossamer veneer of redemptive innocence.
on February 24, 2001
I discovered this album when I was about 10 (6 years after its release); my mother threatened to break it because I kept moving the needle back to the beginning several times a day, day after day. Joni Mitchell was the first singer/songwriter to take my brain beyond the literal into the more complex world of symbols, metaphor and personal mythology. Among my favorites, "Blue Boy" -a sensual song of forever-to-be unfulfilled longing, "Rainy Night House," "Willy," the title song, "The Priest," and "Woodstock," -- I love them all. This album has a seamless quality to it as well - one song blends beautifully into the next with the exception of a couple of spots like "Big Yellow Taxi," which is thrust jarringly in between "The Priest" and "Woodstock." Eventually my album became so decrepit from wear that I memorized the songs with their skips. It was wonderful to have it transferred onto CD so that I could have the lovely whole once more.
on July 23, 2000
With her second album CLOUDS, Joni Mitchell established herself as an artist who was here to stay. LADIES OF THE CANYON affirmed her status as one of the most important female artists in music history. Like most artists, Joni was just getting her feet wet with her first two albums, but it was on her third that she really blossomed. For the first time, Joni sings with the right emotions that her songs often call for. Songs like "Willy", "The Conversation", and "The Arrangement" are short but difficult songs that accurately portray the hardships of love and romance. Another prominent subject is that of the loss of innocence, and Joni brings to it her distinctive brand of poetry. The sad introspection continues on songs like "Woodstock" (not the CSNY version, but in a slower, more dirge-like sound), and "The Circle Game" (which for an almost-20 year old man like me rings all too true). In fact, "The Circle Game" might be the greatest song ever written about coming of age. CANYON's best-known song also deals with the album's prominent subject of time passage: "Big Yellow Taxi". Anyone who thinks Joni is all about the feminine point of view of life's trials and tribulations will probably be shocked by this song that takes a lighthearted, funny approach to a subject that would often get drowned in the emotiveness typical of folk singing/songwriting. Joni's expression at the end of the song is priceless! As her career progressed, Joni Mitchell would get even more personal and introspective. But LADIES OF THE CANYON is the perfect document of a young woman and her approach to life, love, and the pursuit of happiness.
on July 26, 1998
This album captures the feeling and æsthetic of the 1960s beautifully. Though originally from Canada, Joni became an integral part of the mid-1960s music scene in LA (coming there via NY). She apparently lived for a while in Laurel Canyon LONG before it became fashionable, gentrified and yuppie-istic. There was a belief at the time in the intrinsic wholesomeness of human potential and in the possibilities latent in all relationships. Joni captures this perfectly in Ladies of the Canyon. Long before drugs were recognized as a spiritual pollutant, she (and others) partook of the bold experiment in forging new frontiers in human consciousness and new depths of honesty in relationships.
She is not yet embittered by her many, extremely painful life experiences in this album. Thank God she has come through all of it by now, and is sadder and wiser. But anyone who wants to know what it meant to be young in 1966 needs to hear this album.
on July 12, 2009
People often talk about the follow up to this album, Blue, and then Court and Spark as Joni's best works.
This one, her third, is vastly under rated. Her first two albums tend to suffer a bit from underproduction, perhaps intentionally highlighting her coffee house singer/songwriter appeal. But Ladies of the Canyon is a step up from those and a wonderful bridge linking her earlier work to her more popular work.
Without Ladies you wouldn't have Blue or Court and Spark. This album also marks the first time she started to use piano to play and compose on and it really lifts her songwriting talents up a notch: The piano driven For Free, about a popular singer watching a street busker playing for free, is an excellent example. Her voice and piano really shine on this.
This album also includes her classic Big Yellow Taxi and the song made famous by Crosby/Stills/Nash, Woodstock.
It ends with one of my faves, The Circle Game.
This album, to my mind, rates highly with Blue, Court, and Hejira.
on December 9, 2003
I first heard this album when I bought a tape deck (reel-to-reel) from my brother in the early 70's when I was in my early teens. A recording of this was included. I knew who it was, but didn't know the name of the album for a long time as the box was unlabelled. I remember being struck with how clean it was, and enjoyed the standards on it (Circle Game, For Free, Big Yellow Taxi), but didnt' think too much about it. I rediscovered the album as a heartbroken 21 year old, and was stunned at the words that Joni had penned. They spoke to me so directly and with such insight, she'd been where I was.
This album comes in and out of my life, much like some people do, close friends who you may only connect with now and then, the time with them is so intense, you almost can't do it on a regular basis, but they are so valuble to you. This and most of Ms. Mitchell's other mid-period work are like that with me, when I'm in a time loss or reflection, they come out.
Anyway, can't add too much musically to the already written reviews, except that I hope people really listen to the words (and read them to get them all) because she is saying some amazing things here.
on May 13, 2003
It's hard to be objective and fair when evaluating the work of someone you consider to be the greatest EVER of the particular medium in which they work, so I won't even try. The point is, Ladies of the Canyon contains some of the past century's most enduring musical works, songs that put on dazzling display Ms. Mitchell's supernatural gifts of conveying experience through music and plain lyrical splendor. To be sure, Ms. Mitchell is incomparable as a writer, and where others may surpass her for sheer purity of vocals (Ella, Garland and Streisand are the most obvious examples) Joni's not-too-extraordinary singing voice affords her songs a certain humility, a quality that would otherwise escape these larger-than-life but somehow still encased-within-everyman songs. My personal favorites from this record are the darker ones: Blue Boy, Rainy Night House, Willy and For Free all tell stories that pay tribute to the human identity (and in some cases, anonymity). There is something inexplicably poignant and profound about each of these songs-- almost achingly human is the best descriptor I can come up with. The more popular Big Yellow Taxi, Woodstock, and The Circle Game are still as magical as ever, and there are bounties to be unearthed with every listening of The Arrangement, Priest, and Conversation. Being in my early twenties, I will admit that I'm still figuring out the genius of Joni Mitchell, but after listening to her I find that nothing else flows quite as naturally or as pleasantly through my ears. I now wish I had grown up with Joni instead of Mariah/Madonna/Boyz II Men and all the others whose albums have slipped to the back of my closet. Suddenly, I feel I was born thirty years too late.
on May 10, 2003
Joni's first two albums had their moments, but "Ladies Of The Canyon" was really the first time that people began to realize
that here was a major talent who would come to define their generation. Released in early 1970, the album sums up many of the hopes, dreams and disappointments of the decade which had just passed, and as a result remains one of her best-loved works.
For the first time, she used piano nearly as equally as she did the acoustic guitar, moving her sound away from pure folk and into a more sophisticated singer-songwriter savvy, with her lyrics moving into deeper, more mature territory as well.
Tracks like "Morning Morgantown", "For Free" and "Ladies Of The Canyon" contain a purity of imagery, vocal and music that is
just unparalleled; they run like water that has been filtered for the clearest taste. Which makes the darker tracks such as "The Arrangment" and "The Priest" sound even starker by contrast, and also foreshadow the breakdown documented on the next album. The three most popular and well-known songs close the album: "Big Yellow Taxi" matches a bouncing rhythm against
a rather cynical ecology rant (watch the way she says "a pink hotel, a boutique and a swingin' hot-spot!" with an exaggerated,
slick adman's sense of excitement), "Woodstock" is a slow, meditative attempt to poetically sum up the mood of the festival she came so close to attending in airy, transcendent vocal
phrasings (and IMO far superior to the more commercial CSNY version), while "The Circle Game" is a folkie standard sung with a chorus that marks a gentle nod to the passing of time.
Overall, "Ladies Of The Canyon" paints an optimistic portrait of its time, where the problems of external and internal pollution
are quietly resolved by the extreme purity of its sound. Coming as it does only one album before the torrid "Blue" makes this
even more revealing, and certainly essential.
on January 27, 2003
Fans of the free-spirited Joni Mitchell - a TRUE artist with a rather simple voice - will all want to have this CD in their collection. It's one of the very best.
As a work of art, it isn't actually as brilliantly constructed as BLUE. But some of the individual songs are the best she's ever done. And a couple of them are pretty famous.
FOR FREE is an incredible tribute to street musicians. The modesty of the lyrics is quintessential Joni. The words say plainly that "successful" musicians like herself aren't always any better than somebody who plays "for free". It's that earthy modesty, and gentle thoughtfulness toward others that often comes across in her lyrics and makes listening fans feel like best friends with this artist.
WOODSTOCK is of course a very famous song. So is THE CIRCLE GAME and BIG YELLOW TAXI.
But I particularly like CONVERSATION - the simple and feisty professions of a woman who's tired of the man she loves coming to her, asking advice about his current girlfriend. When SHE wants to be his girlfriend!
This is a peppy album that folk-music-lovers can bop around to a little in the car. It definitely has an upbeat tone, interrupted by only the occasional long, soft ballad like WOODSTOCK.
It may be that serious fans will point to other albums as being cohesively more brilliant in some way. But no one can deny that this is a "must-have" album and that some of the songs are among her very best.