Joni Mitchell is Magical on ‘The Asylum Albums (1976-1980)’ Box

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Rhino has issued the next title in the Joni Mitchell Archives series, The Asylum Albums (1976-1980). The new collection, which arrived on June 21, 2024, as a 5-CD set and a limited edition (5,000 copies) 6-LP version pressed on 180-gram vinyl, showcases the acclaimed singer-songwriter as she weaves her magic across Hejira (1976), Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter (1977), Mingus (1979), and the live album Shadows and Light (1980). It’s available in the U.S. here and in the U.K. here. Listen to the newly remastered version of “Coyote” from Hejira, “The Dry Cleaner From Des Moines” from Mingus, “Free Man in Paris” from the double live album Shadows and Light, and many others below.

From the April 30 announcement: After “The Hissing Of Summer Lawns” tour, Mitchell retreated to Neil Young’s beach house to recover. Eager to travel but undecided about a destination, Mitchell was unexpectedly invited on a cross-country road trip with friends. It was one of three road trips she took between 1975 and 1976 and the beginning of a period defined by wanderlust, both in her physical travels and musical exploration.

During this period, Mitchell boldly declared her move from the “hit department” to the “art department.” Critics were slow to catch up, but her creativity was in overdrive. Instead of session aces, she began recording with jazz virtuosos like Larry Carlton and Pat Metheny (guitar), Michael Brecker (saxophone), Herbie Hancock (keyboard), and Don Alias (percussion), as well as several members of Weather Report, including Jaco Pastorius (bass) and Wayne Shorter (saxophone).

Renowned audio engineer Bernie Grundman remastered all four releases included in this box set from the original flat analog master tapes. The cover art includes a portion of one of Mitchell’s original paintings. Fans will enjoy a full version of the whimsically abstract landscape as an accompanying insert included in the album packaging for both the CD and LP configurations.

Accompanying the set is a heartfelt essay penned by Oscar-winning actress Meryl Streep, a lifelong fan of Mitchell’s work. She writes: “It’s not just the artifact – music and lyrics – that Joni gives us. Her artistry leaves us, ourselves, changed. She has shifted things around inside us. And that’s how artists change the world.”

Hejira stands out as a testament to Mitchell’s artistic evolution. Its subdued instrumentation, coupled with her introspective lyrics, resulted in timeless tracks like “Coyote” and “Furry Sings The Blues” with Young on harmonica. Mitchell once said: “I suppose a lot of people could have written a lot of my other songs, but I feel the songs on Hejira could only have come from me.”

Her journey continued with Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter, a double album of largely experimental music. It included “Paprika Plains,” a side-long piano piece with orchestral arrangements.

Ultimately, Mitchell’s path led to Mingus, her collaboration with jazz titan Charles Mingus, who wrote several songs for the project. Mingus died shortly before the album was complete, and Mitchell dedicated it to him. Four songs by Mingus with lyrics written by Mitchell appeared on the album, including a version of “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat,” Mingus’ tribute to saxophonist Lester Young, and one of his most famous compositions. In the album’s liner notes, Mitchell said she felt fully immersed in jazz for the first time while making the record. “It was as if I had been standing by a river – one toe in the water – feeling it out – and Charlie came by and pushed me in – ‘sink or swim’…”

The final entry in The Asylum Albums (1976-1980) is the double live album Shadows and Light, Mitchell’s second live album and her last release with Asylum Records, recorded during the tour for Mingus in September 1979 at the Santa Barbara Bowl. Except for the performance of her classic song “Woodstock,” the album focused on songs from her most recent albums, like “Amelia,” “Dreamland,” and “The Dry Cleaner From Des Moines.”

The Persuasions, a vocal group popular in the 1960s, also appeared on two songs: the title track and a cover of “Why Do Fools Fall In Love.” “We’d like to rock ‘n’ roll you now…”

The release of The Asylum Albums (1976-1980) sets the stage for Joni Mitchell Archives Vol. 4, the next installment in the archival series dedicated to exploring Mitchell’s career through unreleased studio and live recordings. More details will be announced later this year. [Earlier editions of the Archives series are available here.] The new set follows 2022’s Asylum Albums collection that covered 1972-1975.

Mitchell will perform at the Hollywood Bowl on October 19 and 20 for two highly anticipated sold-out shows. These are her first Los Angeles headlining shows in more than two decades. On both nights, she’ll be accompanied by the Joni Jam ensemble.

Related: Mitchell’s life and career are the subject of a 2024 book, Traveling: On the Path of Joni Mitchell

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