Artist: Joni Mitchell
Genre: Singer-Songwriter, Folk
Musicians: – Joni Mitchell – composer, cover art, guitar, keyboards, producer, vocals
Stephen Stills – bass, guitar
Producer:Paul A. Rothchild
Clouds is the second studio album by Canadian singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell. Even though the producer is listed as Paul A. Rothchild, Joni Mitchell produced most of the album and painted a self-portrait for its cover artwork. Clouds mostly features Mitchell’s vocals and acoustic backing. The LP has subtle, unconventional harmonies and songs about lovers, among other themes.
From Wikipedia: Two songs, “Chelsea Morning” and “Both Sides, Now”, had already been recorded by other singers by the time Mitchell started work on the album. Mitchell wrote “Both Sides, Now” after reading Saul Bellow’s 1959 novel Henderson the Rain King on a plane and drawing on a point in the novel where the protagonist is looking at clouds from a plane. The coincidence inspired the song’s lyric about looking at clouds from both sides as a metaphor for life’s ambiguities and mysteries, as she explained in a 1967 interview, “I dreamed down at the clouds, and thought that when I was a kid I had dreamed up at them, and having dreamed at the clouds from both sides as no generation of men has done, one should be able to accept his death very easily.”
The LP starts slowly one side one with “Tin Angel”, but a slow start is not necessarily always a bad thing. At the very next track we are greeted with “Chelsea Morning”, which was a hit and it is one of my favorite Joni Mitchell songs. It has a positive, carefree feel to it. From Wikipedia:Prior to it coming out on the Mitchell album, the song had been issued as a single by Judy Collins earlier in the year and as a track on the debut album by Fairport Convention in 1968. Jennifer Warnes recorded it for her debut album, I Can See Everything, also in 1968, and, in 1969, this version was released as a single. (Editor’s note: Neil Diamond also recorded his version of the song on his Stoners” LP).
The song was inspired by Mitchell’s room in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York City. The inspiration for the first verse comes partly from the distinct décor of her apartment. While in Philadelphia, Mitchell and friends had made a mobile from shards of colored glass they had found in the street and wire coat hangers, which filtered the light coming into her room through the window and created the “rainbow on the wall.” During coffeehouse performances of this song in the late 1960s, Mitchell explained that the famous stained glass had been rescued from the salvaged windows of a demolished home for unwed mothers.
The lyrics of this song demonstrate Mitchell’s talent with imagery, and her strong use of visual inspiration, which comes from her background in visual art. Example: “The sun poured in like butterscotch and stuck to all my senses.” Mitchell, in regards to “Chelsea Morning,” explained in 1996: “It was a very young and lovely time … before I had a record deal. I think it’s a very sweet song, but I don’t think of it as part of my best work. To me, most of those early songs seem like the work of an ingenue.”
“Chelsea Morning” predated the release of Mitchell’s 1968 debut album, but she held off recording the song until her second album Clouds partly because it had already been recorded by other artists.
One of the downsides to this LP comes on Track 3 of side one with “I Don’t Know Where I Stand.” This song sounds vocally off-key and is almost annoying. I didn’t know where to stand either. Oddly enough the following track 4, “That Song About the Midway” has the same progression as track 3, but the performance is better without leaving one feeling like something is missing. Side one ends with an equally bad song titled “Roses Blue”. One would expect this song to have a Joni Mitchell signature sound to it, but the unpleasant surprise is that it does not. Instead, it sounds like it is out of tune on purpose and disheveled. I’m all for artist’s liberty and the like, but this is not a concept LP, so this song really sounds out-of-place leaving one listening to feel the same.
Side two begins on a better note (no pun intended) with “The Gallery”. This song has nice overdubs in it. On track 2 “I Think I Understand” we get the signature Joni Mitchell sound, which means we can listen and enjoy. However, on track 3, “Songs to Aging Children Come” we are assaulted with what could be described as an annoying horror movie soundtrack. If this is supposed to be an ode to aging folk, it failed miserably. Joni Mitchell than shows her vocal chops on the acapella track 4 titled, “The Fiddle and the Drum”. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Fiddle_and_the_Drum The song’s lyrics lament, from the position of an outsider, that America is “fighting us all” and has “[traded] the fiddle for the drum”; however, the singer can “remember/All the good things you are” and asks “Can we help you find the peace and the star?” As an anti-war song, it was one of the songs that became associated with opposition to the Iraq War; in particular, through the 2004 cover by A Perfect Circle. The song provided the title for the 2007 ballet The Fiddle and the Drum which Mitchell authored with Jean Grand-Maître, the artistic director of the Alberta Ballet Company. The ballet was filmed for an hour-long 2007 film with the same title. The last track of the LP provides a saving attempt with the song “Both Sides Now”, which is one of her best known songs.
1. “Tin Angel”
2. “Chelsea Morning”
3. “I Don’t Know Where I Stand”
4. “That Song About the Midway”
5. “Roses Blue”
1. “The Gallery”
2. “I Think I Understand”
3. “Songs to Aging Children Come”
4. “The Fiddle and the Drum”
5. “Both Sides, Now”
It’s a good job this LP has good sonics, was recorded well and all that, otherwise I may not have even bothered reviewing it.