I didn’t know what to expect when I embarked on this monthlong exploration of Joni Mitchell’s discography.
I knew no more than a handful of her songs very well and had zero knowledge of the ebbs and flows of her 40+ year career. I understood that she is an iconic singer-songwriter who inspired a generation of artists, but I didn’t know exactly how or why.
After dozens of hours listening to every one of Mitchell’s studio albums, I now have a pretty well-formed picture of her wild path. But I still don’t know exactly what to make of it. It is certainly a far more unpredictable and uneven journey than I imagined.
Joni Mitchell made an unexpected return to recording in 2007, releasing Shine, an album that seems likely to be her last.
Mitchell suffered an aneurysm in 2015 which robbed her of the ability to talk and walk, though she recovered her voice and is on her way to recovering her mobility. Her old friend and lover, James Taylor, recently said he believed Mitchell, now 77 years old, could even record new music again. I wouldn’t count her out.
Yesterday, I bemoaned the fact that 2000’s Both Sides Now wasn’t made up entirely of Joni Mitchell revisiting her back catalog. Well, Mitchell obliged with her next release, 2002’s Travelogue.
This double album, which Mitchell said would be her last release, presents 22 songs from across her 30+ year career, in new arrangements and backed by a full orchestra.
Joni Mitchell started the 2000s by doing what many artists of her generation have tried: releasing an album of standards.
Both Sides Now features Mitchell’s renditions of such classics as ‘At Last’ and ‘Stormy Weather,’ along with new versions of a couple of her best-loved songs. The album is sequenced as the arc of a love affair, from the first blush of new love through heartbreak, disillusionment and finally acceptance.
Joni Mitchell released three albums in the 90s, matching her 80s output. The two decades’ worth of material combined falls short of the number of releases she managed in the 70s.
Whether it was her marriage, her increasing disillusionment with the recording industry, or just the creative slowdown that many artists experience as they get older, the quantity and quality of Mitchell’s work was just never the same after the 70s.