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Catchgroove’s Hall Of Fame: Joni Mitchell – Miles Of Aisles

April 3, 2021

I was listening to the My Favorite Album Podcast and Nashville singer songwriter Kim Richey selected Joni Mitchell’s Miles Of Aisles and it reminded me of how important that album was to forming my musical taste.

My introduction to Joni Mitchell was probably Judy Collins’ cover of Joni’s “Both Sides Now” – a ubiquitous hit song from my youth. But I had no idea it was Joni or who Joni was. That came in the fall of 1977.

I was a freshman in college and I liked music, but I was very naïve in my taste. I made friends with a guy in the dorm who was a few years older than me and way cool (shout out to Uncle Paul). Why he took a geek freshman like me under his wing is beyond me, but we have ended up as life-long friends. Anyway, he rolled one and we smoked it. He went over to his turntable and dropped the needle on Joni’s Court and Spark and in that instant my life changed – I became a musichead.

Uncle Paul also had Miles of Aisles. That was the first Joni album I bought because it was kind of a greatest hits: a live album of songs from across her career – past, present and (oddly) future.

The live album is from the Court And Spark tour. It combines rearranged versions of some of her most famous songs and obscurities (even a couple songs that would show up on future studio albums). Half the album is with a jazz fusion band, The L.A. Express, and the other half solo.

I was introduced to the Mitchell catalog via these versions and discovered the originals later as I acquired the original albums. Experiencing these live rearrangements first helped me understand what a true musician Joni was.

Side one opens the album with “You Turn Me On I’m A Radio” from 1972’s For The Roses. She gives it a jazz twist with the L.A. Express on this version. Next, she goes back to 1970’s Ladies Of The Canyon with “Big Yellow Taxi,” “Rainy Night House” and “Woodstock.” She leverages the L.A. Express to reinvent her sophisticated folk into sophisticated pop jazz.

For side two she ditches the band and goes solo with the relatively obscure “Cactus Tree” – the last song from her debut Song to a Seagull. Next “Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire” from For The Roses augmented with a lonely soprano sax from Tom Scott. She pulls out another one from For The Roses: “Woman of Heart and Mind.” She returns to the hits with “A Case Of You” and “Blue” (on piano) from Blue.

Side three opens with a Joni monologue which segues into the sing along “Circle Game” from Ladies of the Canyon. Staying acoustic and stripped down she plays “People’s Parties” from the recently released Court and Spark. Next is “All I Want” from Blue. Moving over to piano she plays “Real Good For Free” from Ladies Of The Canyon. The side ends with “Both Sides Now” from Clouds. After a solo acoustic introduction to that song, the L.A. Express joins in – a set up for side four.

Side four she goes all in with the L.A. Express opening with a bold arrangement of Blue’s “Carey” and “Last Time I Time I Saw Richard”. Next, she foreshadows three albums into the future with “Jericho” from Don Juan’s Restless Daughter. As best I know “Love or Money” has not appeared on another Joni Album.

This is a great introduction to Joni and a must have for long time fans. Also, this is one of my favorite album covers – love the combination of a photo and Joni’s painting.

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