Miles Of Aisles – Joni Mitchell

Miles Of Aisles
Miles Of Aisles

Joni’s first live album is quite an epic, a large set featuring songs from her first 5-6 albums which she performs with a backing band. She mostly sticks to crowd pleasers but as she would do throughout her career she changes the tempo, instrumentation, and styles of some of her songs to make them less familiar, giving some of her biggest hits an interesting twist. Some fans may wish for straight down the middle performances but Joni has never been the sort of artist to rest on past laurels. There is a decent amount of banter between tracks as she regales the LA audience with various tales on her writing process and life experiences, and the whole session has an upbeat and easy feel. She has not yet reached the full blown experimentation phase of her career yet so most casual listeners should feel at home, and she doesn’t simply aim for a dark, Blue laden show.

`You Turn Me On I’m A Radio’ opens the gig, one of her more commercial songs where she is accompanied by some country strains. It’s fairly
funky but just misses out on truly getting the listener grooving. The first thing you will notice is that Joni doesn’t sound any different here than she does on record, the sign of a great singer. She moves from sultry tones to trademark highs, singing clearly the clever lyrics and whoops and woos, her voice and the band coming together for the outro.

`Big Yellow Taxi’ may be her most well known song, and one of her most loved but here she adds an unusual honky tonk style to it- grooving in the verse, then messing with the timing for the chorus. It’s great when an artist changes their songs for live performances but this adaption isn’t one of my favourites. Again she sings well and the band are fine, marked by a brass solo but it just doesn’t do it for me like the original does. Of course no amount of tinkering can stop it from being a great song and I’m sure some country lovers will prefer this version.

`Rainy Night House’ here has an intro that always reminds me of The Doors, quite trippy and mysterious. Joni sings with quite a jazzy style
unlike the straight fashion of the original. There are extra instruments and the piano from the original is missing, but there are a few added interludes and bits to spice things up. Like quite a few of the songs here you may not like what she has done to the original but it’s nice to hear this one sped up and given more musical depth. I still prefer the original though.

`Woodstock’ is vastly different from the version most will know, with quite a rockin’ intro shifting into a quicker jazzy verse. The chorus is also quite funky, with different timing and not as quiet as the original. Again this may put off some casual fans but as most Joni fans know she is not one to play the same thing repeatedly and is constantly re-writing and organizing even her biggest songs not only live but re-recording them too. It’s nice to see a different flavour to such a defining song. I find it a bit strange that she takes a break after four songs, probably as the album is really four concerts spliced this was not really the fourth song.

`Cactus Tree’ sticks fairly closely to the original, albeit with a few melodic changes and different guitar. I miss the flute of the original, but this version is sung with more emotion and power. This is a nice inclusion from an early album.

`Cold Blue Steel And Sweet Fire’ is not changed too much from the original, it is mostly Joni with her guitar here, singing with a more jazz style. Horns intrude later in the song, Joni seems to shout the arty lyrics at various points. There is a slight raspy quality to her voice hinting at what she would later sound like. There is an extended guitar and horn battle towards the end mirroring the lyrics before an extended, smooth
ending.

`Woman Of Heart And Mind’ begins with the sounds of laughter, so clearly both band an audience were having a good time. This version is fairly minimalist, trademark Joni with guitar. Her voice spits at the correct moments, soothes others, and she shows supreme control. No other band members come in and it ends gently enough before the intro of the next song.

`A Case Of You’ is mostly exactly the same as the version on Blue, a quiet, beautiful, poignant love song. It is Joni alone again, and not a sound can be heard from the audience but in the quiet moments you can almost feel their spines tingling. I think it’s clever that she fills some songs with new parts but for this and a few others she keeps `pure’. Even the little mistake she makes in the middle works well, and if anything this version is softer than Blue’s- it’s just as perfect.

`Blue’ is also almost identical to the original, though with a slight lyrical change and a few different vocal and piano bits. After this we get a slight interlude where we get to see some of Joni’s personality- we see both humour and cynicism and unfortunately most of what she probably said over the four shows she played for this recording is cut.

`The Circle Game’ begins with Joni beckoning the crowd to sing along, out of tune if they can. Everyone seems to sing pretty well, Joni especially and it is a sweet rendition of the sweetest of songs.

`People’s Parties’ is another gentle rendition without much extra input from the band or variation from the original. The way the crowd reacts to this song makes it sound like this was her first song of the night, possible as the album was recorded from four shows.

`All I Want’ is a jangly interpretation of the first song from Blue. Joni sings it well live considering it is such a breathless song, melodies and lyrics heavily loaded and packed into a short song. Without accompaniment it remains faithful to the album version. There is an odd silence between this and the next song, not great production.

`For Free’ is pretty close to the album version, but given a slightly lighter tone by Joni’s lyric change and giggling. It doesn’t become as somber an affair as the original but is just as good.

`Both Sides Now’ is given slight accompaniment by the band with slide guitar and swirly effects and other instruments, Joni sings in typical fashion sometimes shouting for the high notes, sometimes holding back.

`Carey’ is given a much heavier and funkier makeover for the live show with lots of guitar effects and almost reggae feel in parts. This is one of the more fun songs from Blue and you can tell that she has fun performing it here. There is both a keyboard and guitar solo added to the middle section making things even more different.

`The Last Time I Saw Richard’ is also given a more upbeat makeover, with drums etc and some amusing changes from Joni. The song has a jazzy feel towards the end with lots of extra instruments coming in and it has a less sudden conclusion than the album.

`Jericho’ would have been a new song for the audience, a sign of things to come along with the last song. It is unusual to close a concert and a
live album with two, at the time, new and unheard songs. Jericho is still fairly accessible for most audiences considering the direction her next few albums would take, and still features trademark Joni lyrics and vocals.

`Love Or Money’ closes the album, a song which wasn’t released on any other album. Joni sings about an underground artist hoping for fame, about war and pride, love and money, her lyrics are pretty experimental and the song is long for her early period. There is a jazzy influence and the melodies are not as clear and memorable as most from this period. This would go on to mark her next albums, a sign of experimentation yes but for me at least a drop in quality.

Miles Of Aisles is a good live album showcasing the period in which it was recorded and showing Joni at the height of her talents. After this she would become more artistic with more sprawling songs, bigger ideas, leaving folk behind for jazz and into the 80s where she would soon lose interest in music. On record here she is enjoying herself, there are few if any signs of annoyance or fatigue, she is flawless in her singing and playing and the band backing her are ok. Aside from a few production gaps and mistakes this is a must for Joni fans and a good live
album for anyone’s collection.

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