Tuesday, July 20, 2021


This is a special box of the first four Mitchell albums reissued on vinyl, part of the new Archives series that debuted last fall. It's a chronological march through her career, which began with a boxed set of previously unreleased live, broadcast and demo recordings from the mid-60's. Now we get the start of the official stuff, and next will be another batch of unreleased material from the late '60's-early '70's, coming this fall.

The first four albums are '68's Song To A Seagull, followed by Clouds, Ladies Of The Canyon and '71's Blue. They went like this: Good, better, great, GOAT. When she had her debut, everybody knew she was a great new talent, tearing up the folk circuit with her different and delicate originals, and championed by erstwhile producer David Crosby. As early as 1966, wise artists Tom Rush and George Hamilton IV had covered her, followed quickly by Ian & Sylvia, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Judy Collins and Dave Van Ronk. She basically had a greatest hits already, with her songs "Circle Game," "Both Sides, Now," "Urge For Going" and "Chelsea Morning" already well-known thanks to the various covers. 

So what does she do for her debut? For some strange reason, she ignored all these gems, perhaps thinking they didn't need more exposure. Instead the songs on Seagull were divided into a concept, side 1 called I Came To The City and the flip titled Out Of The City And Down To The Seaside. These were pretty but odd songs about people and places such as "Michael From Mountains" and "Nathan La Franeer." There was little adornment, just Joni and her strange chords and confident vocals. This album has been given a new mix for this release, basically to take down a couple of odd effects when there was a bit of overdubbing or an extra instrument, but it's nothing that truly improves the album. There are just too many fussy, airy tunes and few memorable ones, other than "Night In The City" and the title cut.

The next year, Mitchell's career was more in focus, and she took control of her own production, along with sympathetic engineer Henry Lewy. Stephen Stills was on hand to flesh the music out more, and she went back to proven favourites "Both Sides, Now" and "Chelsea Morning" to anchor the album. The rest of the songs were certainly serious compositions, Mitchell touching on war, depression, and adult relationships. Her unique arrangements, both vocally and melodically, pointed to a prolonged period of excellence, which was just around the corner.

Ladies Of The Canyon saw both new and older material again, a new palette of colours for the instrumentation featuring lots of her piano, Milt Holland's percussion, some strings, sax and woodwinds, and more focused and clear lyrics. Mitchell was getting more personal in her writing, or at least less ambiguous, and was spearheading the movement of so-called confessional singer-songwriters. It doesn't seem to have been a conscious shift. Instead her writing took another leap, and her images and places became so rich they instantly formed great scenes in the listener's imagination. Whether it's the family home in "Rainy Night House" or the street where the musician is playing clarinet in "For Free," we are effortlessly transported. These are her stories, she's there and now so are we, voyeurs in the scene. Yes, her famous lovers are here, "Willy" is Graham Nash, It's probably Leonard Cohen's mother's house in "Rainy Night House," but the subject isn't gossip, it's emotion. If she's wondering "Who in the world you might be," we're supposed to examine ourselves, not make a flow chart of all her partners (something Rolling Stone magazine did, as it proved over and over again it was no friend to female artists). Mitchell reclaimed her old coffee house favourites "Morning Morgantown" and "The Circle Game," two of her finest (and clearest) early compositions, which she had neglected to record before, and made the whole album even stronger. She took back "Woodstock" from her strutting pals in CSNY, reclaiming it as a cautionary moment about '60's hopefulness rather than an anthem for electric guitar. And she capped it all off with the incredibly infectious "Big Yellow Taxi," disguising her most serious message with her most catchy tune. 

Which brings us to Blue. Mitchell, trying to come to grips with all the chaos and demands surrounding her as her fame and profitability grew, did a runner to Europe to recharge. The resulting songs were (with one notable exception) all new and left little to speculation. They all feature her singing "I" to let us know this is the truth, her life, her heart on display. She has many questions, few answers, lots of experiences, and a fragile heart. Deal with it. Mitchell has enough sense to laugh at herself, describing the brief romance with "Carey" and the excitement of her homecoming in "California" and even adding a brief laugh in the emotionally intense title cut. As for matters of the heart, are there two more remarkable songs than "River" and "A Case Of You?" The old tune she did bring back was perhaps the most personal one she ever wrote, although its true meaning was revealed until years later. "Little Green" was about the daughter she gave up for adoption back in Toronto, and it's easy to see why it found a home among these other revealing songs. It also sounds like no other album, with the heavy use of the dulcimer as the lead instrument.

So that's the package, the original albums are left as is, bonus cuts and out-takes saved for the coming box this fall. The upgrades here feature the new mix of Seagull, heavy-vinyl pressings which sound great, and heavy stock cardboard for the gatefold jackets. Oh, and there's a one-sheet essay from Brandi Carlisle, who has become the official spokesperson for Joni Worship, explaining why these albums not only stand the test of time, they continue to claim the pinnacle. I'd have to agree. 

Friday, July 16, 2021


Newfoundland's Denis Parker is doing what bluesmen do best, getting better with age and experience. He's been at it since the late '60's, when he recorded two albums at Abbey Road in London with Panama Limited Jug Band, and more albums have come steadily since moving to NL in 1971.  On this latest, he handles almost everything himself, an acoustic album of 14 cuts, all but one self-composed. That includes three instrumentals that show his prowess at picking hasn't diminished a bit. 

Although he's no stranger to group sounds, this time he chose to write solely in open D tuning, making the songs particularly mellow and rich. The instrumental "Daybreak" is a beautiful piece that's soaked in a good mood like a perfect sunrise, a sound that makes you glad to be alive. "The Golden Years" will make you smile for different reasons, as Parker sings about being a man of a certain age, who may or may not be him; "I got a cane when I walk too far/I smoke the odd marijuana cigar." Age comes up a few times in the album, but he's not complaining at all. Instead he's embracing it, and reminding us you don't stop loving someone with laughing eyes, or waxing poetic about a full moon. Oh, and millennials take note: If you want to know what sexy sounds like, check out his "Love Rushed In." Experience is everything.

Thursday, July 8, 2021


Here's a labour of love, a love of travel, and a travail to put together in trying Covid times. The Sun Harmonic is the band project of Kaleb Hikele, who does all sorts of styles awesomely. This album was a road trip, quite literally recorded as he crossed from the Pacific to the Atlantic in 2018, indoors and out, onstage and off. While the recordings proper happened in Vancouver Island, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and Halifax, bits and pieces were collected, added, and inspired by spots large and small. "Flying Over Saskatchewan" takes its title from the obvious, while some ocean waves were recorded on Cape Breton Island to give the true coast-to-coast flavour. 

At the same time, Hikele avoided the obvious cliches, and didn't get bogged down in naming-checking lots of places or writing about Canada. Instead, the inspirations are more personal and subtle, with love for family being the larger theme. "Ocean"may mention on island on the west coast, but it's about a much-loved child. "Build A Boat" is a metaphor for finding a way past troubles, sailing on positivity. As a whole, the album is about the people and the places we hold in our hearts.

"Flying Over Saskatchewan" is an acoustic rave-up, with some fine riffs and gang vocals in the chorus, fast and fun. But for the most part, these are lovely, touching songs, gently performed, highlighted by Hikele's tender voice. The highlight is the closing track, "The Grand Old Lady Sails Away," apparently the last performance on the stage of Massey Hall before its major reno. Recorded with one mic in front of a small group of people, the fitting tribute to the hall is quite beautiful, and shows just how pure his voice is.

The album is being launched in stages; You can buy an early copy now on vinyl and CD, and digital downloads and streaming will arrive Oct. 1. All the info is at https://thesunharmonic.bandcamp.com/

Tuesday, July 6, 2021


Last year's fantastic Wildflowers and All the Rest compilation, a grand total of five discs of songs from those early '90's sessions, was a welcome collection for Petty fans. But it did leave a bit of a problem with his catalogue. The 1996 soundtrack for She's The One had included several of the leftover tracks from those sessions, which now sit properly in the Wildflowers collection. So instead of doubling up on the cuts, the Petty Estate has refashioned She's The One into this new LP, by finding a few new tracks for inclusion. 

The idea was to make the new Angel Dream a coherent album, rather than just a hodgepodge of leftover cuts. Of course, with Petty, his cast-aways are almost always of such quality that this becomes an easier task. Rather than take the approach of a soundtrack, which was how She's The One was assembled, this set is meant to present a normal 12-cut Heartbreakers LP. So we only get one version "Walls," instead of the two versions found on the soundtrack. That's a fantastic song of course, and the same can be said of "Angel Dream" and "Climb That Hill" plus his covers of Lucinda Williams' "Change The Locks" and Beck's "Asshole." Really, being on a soundtrack to a poorly-received movie did these songs no favours, and it sales and chart success suffered for it. Hopefully they'll find a wider audience here.

There are four brand-new songs added here, plus an extended version of "Supernatural Radio." Best of all is another cover, this one a J.J. Cale number called "Thirteen Days," a Southern Gothic piece that could have easily come from Petty's pen. "105 Degrees" may be lyrically slight ("What do you want? Perfection?") but is a classic Heartbreakers jam, one of the last recorded with outgoing drummer/trouble-maker Stan Lynch. "One Of Life's Little Mysteries" is a bit of grin, done in a vaudevillian style. The final new one is actually familiar, as it's an acoustic guitar and organ instrumental version of "Angel Dream," now called "French Disconnection." While there's no major new tracks on this reimagined album, it's probably now a more cohesive and digestable listen than the lengthier and scattered She's The One.