Joni Mitchell by Steve Matteo (from the album Joni 75: A Joni Mitchell Celebration available on
Joni Mitchell turned 75, November 2018. Battling serious illness for many years, and reportedly near death at one point, Mitchell has recovered and was able to attend concerts that commemorated her milestone birthday at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles over two nights on November 6 and 7, 2018.
The event featured a wide mix of artists from various generations and musical styles. A 16-song release, Joni 75: A Joni Mitchell Celebration from Decca includes selections from the concert. Artists such as Graham Nash and James Taylor, who were a key part of Joni Mitchell’s early career, and contemporaries such as Kris Kristofferson and Emmylou Harris are included here performing covers of Mitchell’s song catalog. Aside from newer artists with Jazz leanings (Diana Krall and Norah Jones), Joni 75 doesn’t reflect the breadth of the Jazz stylings from Joni Mitchell’s recording career evident at the full concert tributes.
The omission is significant particularly in that Joni Mitchell’s Jazzier recordings and tours were often misunderstood by critics and the record business in general. Joni 75: A Joni Mitchell Celebration rights these wrongs but the abridged disc waters down this key component of the shows. Songs such as “Amelia,” “Coyote” and “Dreamland” are drawn from Mitchell’s more adventurous jazz and world music-styled albums, but they are overshadowed by her more popular songs such as “Help Me,” “Both Sides Now” and “Big Yellow Taxi.”
Regardless of stylistic choices, Joni 75 is still an exceptional compiling and performances by Glen Hansard, Rufus Wainwright, and especially Brandi Carlile, pay tribute to the original compositions while reflecting their vitality in the hands of these sympathetic and deeply talented post-60’s artists. An interesting juxtaposition is hearing Graham Nash perform his song “Our House” about his relationship with Joni Mitchell alongside James Taylor’s mournful “Woodstock”, originally recorded in a scorching rendition by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, the rendition included on Joni 75 closer here to Mitchell’s original recording vision.
This is not the first, or likely the last, tribute album or concert for Joni Mitchell. Few popular musical artists of the Rock era are more innovative or iconoclastic than Mitchell. Her compositional talents and versatile musical skills are unmatched. For both those just coming to Joni Mitchell and those long familiar with her music, this is a welcome chronicle of a milestone musical event.
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