Joni Mitchell – Clouds

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  • Triple Triple! A stunning copy with Triple Plus (A+++) sound from start to finish- this is As Good As It Gets, folks! 
  • Check out the clear transients on Joni’s guitar — you can really hear her moving her hands around the fretboard and pulling on the strings
  • It’s tough to find this album in clean shape with this kind of warm, natural sound (something the new reissue is no doubt profoundly lacking)
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Clouds is a stark stunner, a great leap forward for Joni Mitchell. Vocals here are more forthright and assured than on her debut and exhibit a remarkable level of subtle expressiveness. Guitar alone is used in accompaniment, and the variety of playing approaches and sounds gotten here is most impressive.”

The best sounding copies of Clouds are the ones that put Joni and her guitar right there in your living room. The copies with veiled vocals really don’t allow the music to come to life, and the copies where her voice is too forward come across as unnatural and hi-fi-ish. It takes an exceptional copy to strike the right balance and put both the voice and guitar right between your speakers, not under a blanket or in your lap.

The intimacy of the recording is simply breathtaking, but most pressing can’t begin to do it justice, especially the reissues, which tend to be thin and edgy and sorely lacking in Tubey Magic. You have not begun to hear these songs with this kind of realism and power unless, like us, you’ve cleaned and played plenty of copies and lucked into a truly killer Hot Stamper.

This vintage pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records rarely even BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to “see” the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting in the studio with Joni, this is the record for you. It’s what vintage all analog recordings are known for — this sound.

If you exclusively play modern repressings of vintage recordings, I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl. Old records have it — not often, and certainly not always — but maybe one out of a hundred new records do, and those are some pretty long odds.

What the best sides of Clouds have to offer is not hard to hear:

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1969
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional space of the studio

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.

What We’re Listening For on Clouds

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
  • The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
  • Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness common to most LPs.
  • Tight, note-like bass with clear fingering — which ties in with good transient information, as well as the issue of frequency extension further down.
  • Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the players.
  • Then: presence and immediacy. The musicians aren’t “back there” somewhere, way behind the speakers. They’re front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt — Henry Lewy in this case — would have put them.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Tin Angel
Chelsea Morning
I Don’t Know Where I Stand
That Song About the Midway
Roses Blue

Side Two

The Gallery
I Think I Understand
Songs to Aging Children Come
The Fiddle and the Drum
Both Sides Now

AMG 4 1/2 Star Review

Clouds is a stark stunner, a great leap forward for Joni Mitchell. Vocals here are more forthright and assured than on her debut and exhibit a remarkable level of subtle expressiveness. Guitar alone is used in accompaniment, and the variety of playing approaches and sounds gotten here is most impressive.

“The Fiddle and the Drum,” a protest song that imaginatively compares the Vietnam-era warmongering U.S. government to a bitter friend, dispenses with instrumental accompaniment altogether. The sketches presented of lovers by turns depressive (“Tin Angel”), roguish (“That Song About the Midway”), and faithless (“The Gallery”) are vividly memorable. Forthright lyrics about the unsureness of new love (“I Don’t Know Where I Stand”), misuse of the occult (“Roses Blue”), and mental illness (“I Think I Understand”) are very striking.

Mitchell’s classic singer/songwriter standards “Chelsea Morning” and “Both Sides Now” respectively receive energetically vibrant and warmly thoughtful performances. Imaginatively unusual and subtle harmonies abound here, never more so in her body of work than on the remarkable “Songs to Aging Children Come,” which sets floridly impressionistic lyrics to a lovely tune that is supported by perhaps the most remarkably sophisticated chord sequence in all of pop music. Mitchell’s riveting self-portrait on the album’s cover is a further asset.

This essential release is a must-listen.

Joni’s Sound

In 2005 we tried to explain why it is practically impossible to find good sounding copies of Blue, comments that apply nearly as well to Clouds:

The main reason it’s so difficult to find a good sounding pressing of this record is that most copies have a tendency towards hardness, shrillness and aggressiveness. There is a great deal of mid to high frequency information in this recording, and the problems arise when you take all that energy and try to stamp it into a piece of mass-produced cheap domestic vinyl. If the vinyl wasn’t good on the day they pressed the record, it doesn’t matter how good the mastering is. The result is grain. Grunge. And since Joni pushes hard in her upper registers on many of these songs, it’s enough to make you want to leave the room.

That’s on the copies that are mastered right! The copies that are mastered with thin and aggressive sound to start with can only get worse. Those are the rule, not the exception.

The best copies bring out the breathy quality to Joni’s voice, and she never sounds strained. They are sweet and open, with good bass foundation and transparency throughout the frequency range.