Joni Mitchell gathers music of love for anticipated ballet

When Joni Mitchell turned 71 in November, Rhino Records announced it had put together a playlist in celebration of the pioneering singer-songwriter’s legendary career. The press release also stated a new four-disc box set was only a few weeks away and would bear “about as Mitchell-esque a title as you could hope for.” What surfaced, as promised, is Love Has Many Faces: A Quartet, A Ballet, Waiting to be Danced. The collection was first conceived as music to a ballet about love, but after spending 18 months trying to fill a single disc with 16 albums worth of songs she’d written about love and heartbreak, Mitchell opted to abandon the ballet idea.

“I wanted the music to feel like a total work—a new work,” explains Mitchell in the liner notes that accompany Love Has Many Faces: A Quartet, A Ballet, Waiting to be Danced. “No matter what I did, though, at that length, it remained merely a collection of songs,” she writes. As she labored over the sequencing and re-sequencing of the material, the Canadian artist was struck by a new creative approach. “I am a painter who writes songs,” she explains. “My songs are very visual. The words create scenes [and] … What I have done here is to gather some of these scenes (like a documentary filmmaker) and by juxtaposition, edit them into a whole new work.”

In addition to the 53 newly remastered songs organized into different thematic acts, the package includes a book that features 54 lyrical poems, six new paintings, and an autobiographical text that allows listeners to peer into the artist’s recording process. “I had forty years of footage to review,” she recalls. “Then, suddenly, scenes began to hook up. Then series began to form. Instead of it being an emotional roller coaster ride as it was before—crammed into one disc—themes began to develop.” Mitchell adds that when the long editorial process finally came to an end two years later, she realized she had “four ballets or a four-act ballet—a quartet. I also had a box set.”

Love Has Many Faces: A Quartet, A Ballet, Waiting to be Danced is Mitchell's first release since 2007's Shine. She curated and meticulously remastered the collection herself (“The masters have been irresponsibly maintained …”) along with longtime mixing engineer Bernie Grundman. The extensive track listing includes many of Mitchell's classic cuts such as ‘Both Sides Now, ‘Blue,’ ‘Hejira,’ and ‘Carey’ alongside later, more obscure tracks like ‘The Wolf That Lives in Lindsey’ and ‘My Best to You.’ Mitchell omitted anything from her first three records, telling Billboard, “I don't like my singing [from that period].”

Fans will note that Mitchell’s mainstream hit, ‘Big Yellow Taxi,’ is missing from the comprehensive retrospective. She explains the omission is intentional because the 1975 Top 25 single has nothing to do with the theme of new boxed set. However, the 1972 Billboard Hot 100 single, ‘You Turn Me On I'm A Radio’ (No. 25), made the cut. Mitchell still hopes ‘Love Has Many Faces’ can be presented as a four-act original production. “This [boxed set] is step one of a dream that may not go any further,” she continues in the Billboard interview. “I don't know if there’s anyone who will support [the ballet production], it remains to be seen.”

Listen to Joni Mitchell perform ‘The Circle Game'.”

As A Matter of Fact…

* Joni Mitchell, CC, was born Roberta Joan Anderson on November 7, 1943, at Fort Macleod, Alberta, Canada. Mitchell briefly studied classical piano at age 6, but it was while recovering from polio as an 8-year-old that she developed her real love of music. She began singing for other patients and later taught herself to play guitar.

* During college, Mitchell became a fixture on the folk music scene around Alberta as both a club performer and busker. In 1965, she moved to Toronto and married folksinger Chuck Mitchell. The couple moved to Detroit a year later and soon separated.

* Mitchell earned significant press acclaim in Detroit as her “burgeoning songwriting skills and smoky, distinctive vocals” led to a string of high-profile performances in New York City. She signed to the Reprise label in 1967, and David Crosby produced her self-titled acoustic debut record.

* Mitchell began attracting a cult following, fueled by her 1969 sophomore effort, Clouds, which won a Grammy for Best Folk Performance. She stormed ahead even further in 1970 with Ladies of the Canyon, which featured Top 25 single ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ and the anthemic ‘Woodstock.’

* In 1971, Mitchell’s commercially and critically acclaimed recording, Blue, was noted for its starkly confessional songs written during a European vacation. As she shied away from the success of being considered one of pop music's greatest talents, Mitchell couldn’t shake the unwelcome celebrity status.

* Mitchell’s popularity only grew with the release of 1972's For the Roses, which featured ‘You Turn Me On (I'm a Radio),’ her first Top 40 hit on the Billboard Hot 100. An even more commercial success followed in 1974 with Court and Spark, her best-selling LP to date.

* Court and Spark features a “sparkling, jazz-accented set” that reached No. 2 on the Billboard Top LPs & Tape chart (now Billboard 200), and spawned three more hit singles including Top 10 smash ‘Help Me,’ ‘Free Man in Paris,’ and ‘Raised on Robbery.’

* An armful of Grammy Awards followed in the ‘90s and ‘00s for later projects including Turbulent Indigo as Best Pop Album and Best Album Package (1995); Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album for Both Sides Now (2000); a Lifetime Achievement Award (2002); Album of the Year for River: The Joni Letters ((2007); and Best Pop Instrumental Performance foe ‘One Week Last Summer’ (2007).

* In 2007, Mitchell collaborated with the Alberta (Canada) Ballet in creating “The Fiddle and the Drum,” a ballet themed around war and environmental neglect that was developed into a full evening-length piece in 2009.

* Mitchell rejected a biopic idea about her life and the impact of other female singer-songwriters of the ‘60s and ‘70s such as Carole King and Carly Simon. An adaptation of the book “Girls Like Us” by Sheila Weller had reportedly lined up pop superstar Taylor Swift to portray Mitchell in the movie.

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