Come 1972, Joni Mitchell’s singular songwriting talent and poetic gifts were undeniable. Fresh off the back-to-back Platinum-certified releases of 1970’s Ladies of the Canyon and 1971’s Blue — totemic albums whose artfulness and ubiquity would influence generations of songwriters — Mitchell had grown wary of mounting media scrutiny. Everything from her style choices to romantic partners became the subject of far more gossip column inches than were ever dedicated to the lifestyle minutiae of her male counterparts.
In response, she had pulled back, announcing an early retirement from the stage in 1970 and moving to the quiet expanses of British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast. It was a fruitful change of scenery. Inspired by her proximity to nature and refreshed by the peaceful seclusion, she began constructing the songs that would become For The Roses. This respite thrust Mitchell into a remarkably fertile creative period, yielding a run of albums — 1972’s For The Roses, 1974’s Court And Spark, and 1975’s The Hissing Of Summer Lawns — that would simultaneously expand and refine the scope of her music. Her adventurous, intricate arrangements and growing formidability as a bandleader injected these songs with a clarity of purpose, a potent muscularity, and a sense of possibility — it is among the most exciting eras of a near peerless career.
This era comes into even greater focus on Joni Mitchell Archives, Vol. 3: The Asylum Years (1972-1975), out October 6, 2023 on Rhino Records. It’s the latest entry in Rhino’s ongoing, GRAMMY-winning series exploring the vast untapped archives of rare Joni Mitchell recordings — a project guided intimately by Mitchell’s own vision and personal touch. Joni Mitchell Archives, Vol. 3: The Asylum Years (1972-1975) will be available both in a 5CD / digital version and a 4LP cut-down version, both with an accompanying book featuring photos and a conversation about this period between Joni Mitchell and longtime friend Cameron Crowe.
As Vol. 1: The Early Years (1963-1967) — which won a 2022 GRAMMY Award for Best Historical Album — and Vol. 2: The Reprise Years (1968-1971) did, Vol. 3 boasts an embarrassment of riches. The collection begins with an early cut of “Cold Blue Steel And Sweet Fire,” one of two songs (along with “For The Roses”) test-driven during a visit to a Graham Nash David Crosby recording session at Wally Heider’s in Hollywood.
From there, listeners are treated to early demos and alternate versions from sessions from For The Roses, Court & Spark, and The Hissing Of Summer Lawns; historic live show recordings, including the entirety of Mitchell’s triumphant 1972 return to Carnegie Hall and a definitive gig with her Court And Spark backing band Tom Scott & the L.A. Express; and tracks from sessions cut alongside James Taylor, Graham Nash, and Neil Young.
Alongside today’s announcement, Rhino shares an early demo of Court And Spark’s “Help Me,” a track that would go on to be Joni Mitchell’s biggest ever chart and radio hit. While the official version is assured and sophisticated, this newly unveiled demo shows the song’s rawer, original form.
As she approaches her 80th birthday later this year, Joni Mitchell is reaffirming the vitality and resonance of her music. Last month, she released At Newport, a live album commemorating her incredible comeback performance at the 2022 Newport Folk Festival. Pitchfork described it as “a joyous surprise, a moment of wonder,” while NPR Music says it “[shows] Mitchell's legacy in action and how younger generations of musicians carry forth her spirit of imagination and fearless reconfiguration.”
Back in June, Mitchell held her first ticketed performance in over 20 years at a sold-out Gorge Amphitheatre in Quincy, WA. Rolling Stone called it “The triumph of the human spirit we all desperately craved…a powerful celebration of Mitchell’s life and resiliency.”