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Box Sets Of The Week: Joni Mitchell | Archives Vol. 1: Early Years 1963-1967

The folk icon kicks off a retrospective series with a collection of her first recordings.

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THE EDITED PRESS RELEASE: “Since her debut album arrived in 1968, Joni Mitchell’s songs have been embraced across generations, inspired multitudes of artists around the world, and earned every conceivable accolade. She is now opening her vault for the first time to create the Joni Mitchell Archives, a new series of boxed set releases that will span the next several years, featuring deep dives in to unreleased content from different eras of her storied career. Mitchell has been intimately involved in producing the archive series, lending her vision and personal touch to every element of the project.

The series debuts with Archives Vol. 1: Early Years (1963-1967), which features nearly six hours of unreleased home, live, and radio recordings that flow chronologically to paint a rich portrait of Mitchell’s rapid growth as a performer and songwriter during the period leading up to her debut album. This treasure trove of unheard audio includes 29 original Mitchell compositions that have never been released before with her vocals. The collection begins in 1963 with her earliest-known recording as a 19-year-old Mitchell performs at CFQC AM, a radio station in her hometown of Saskatoon, Sask. The box culminates with a stirring, three-set 1967 nightclub performance recorded at the Canterbury House in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Through a wealth of unreleased live performances, home recordings, and radio broadcasts, Archives Vol. 1 brings into focus the period when Mitchell was finding her voice artistically. It shows her moving away from the folk standards of her early days (John Hardy and House Of The Rising Sun) and starting to write and sing her own songs (Day After Day and Urge For Going).

Archives Vol. 1 reveals just how prolific a songwriter Mitchell was at the time. In addition to early versions of songs that would appear on Song To A Seagull (Michael From Mountains and I Had A King), the set also features songs destined for later albums: Chelsea Morning and Both Sides Now (Clouds, 1969); The Circle Game (Ladies of the Canyon, 1970); and Little Green (Blue, 1971).

More than a just historic document, these recordings crackle with energy thanks to a vibrant and enchanting Mitchell. On many, you can hear her tuning her guitar and telling a story about the song before playing it. That includes her rare 1967 cover of Neil Young’s Sugar Mountain, a song she says inspired her to write The Circle Game.

The five-CD collection includes a 40-page booklet that features many unseen photos from Mitchell’s personal collection as well as new liner notes featuring conversations between writer/filmmaker Cameron Crowe and Mitchell, who recently spent Sunday afternoons together discussing her archives. Crowe will continue to provide liners for future releases in the series.

Looking back, Mitchell reflects on her early label of “folk singer”: “The early stuff, I shouldn’t be such a snob against it. A lot of these songs, I just lost them. They fell away. They only exist in these recordings. For so long I rebelled against the term, ‘I was never a folk singer.’ I would get pissed off if they put that label on me. I didn’t think it was a good description of what I was. And then I listened and … it was beautiful. It made me forgive my beginnings. And I had this realization … I was a folk singer!”