Dec 07, 2022
By Hays Davis
Following Joni Mitchell’s 2021 The Reprise Albums, The Asylum Albums (1972-1975) (available as 4-CD and 5-LP sets) spotlights a period where her rich creative evolution found some of her greatest commercial success.
1972’s For the Roses fits naturally at the start of Mitchell’s run of Asylum albums, as these songs are primarily driven by her accomplished guitar and piano settings. Where the title track and the haves-and-have-nots study of “Banquet” could have settled comfortably onto earlier releases, tracks like “Barangrill” and “Let the Wind Carry Me” subtly point the stylistic way ahead. “You Turn Me On, I’m a Radio” became Mitchell’s first hit single, while “Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire” offers a chilling look at heroin addiction.
A U.S. #2 in 1974, Court and Spark is Mitchell’s most commercially successful album to date. Recorded with the jazz fusion ensemble L.A. Express, members of The Crusaders, and old friends including David Crosby and Graham Nash, the vibrant collection includes the hit singles “Help Me” (her sole Billboard Top 10 single) and “Free Man in Paris,” along with highlights such as the rocking “Raised on Robbery”.
With backing on the tour from the L.A. Express, the 1974 live double album Miles of Aisles (another U.S. #2) focuses almost exclusively on material released prior to Court and Spark. “Big Yellow Taxi,” which had previously peaked at #67 as a U.S. single, became a hit from Miles of Aisles as a live single.
1975’s The Hissing of Summer Lawns continued her work of bringing her compositions to life in more layered arrangements, once again finding Mitchell recording with jazz players from the L.A. Express and the Crusaders. “The Jungle Line” displayed Mitchell’s adventurous drive at that time, with an early example of sampling that placed the Drummers of Burundi (credited as “warrior drums of Burundi”) as the song’s hypnotic center. With its balance of group structures and meditative passages, Hissing continued the chart success generated by Court and Spark as Mitchell’s creativity was in full flower, and the album’s jazz elements pointed the way forward. (www.jonimitchell.com)
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