Joni Mitchell – Miles of Aisles

More Joni Mitchell

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Joni Mitchell

  • This Joni Mitchell classic boasts excellent Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER on all four sides – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Henry Lewy brings the analog richness, smoothness and clarity he achieved on Court and Spark to the recording – it’s some of the best live sound we’ve ever heard
  • Joni reworks some of her best-loved songs for this concert, with five tracks from Blue alone (!), and the new arrangements show us just how vital her early ’70s work has turned out to be
  • “It’s a strong album of her best songs performed mostly informally… Much of the material here is beautiful, replete with the patented Mitchell tension. And a word for engineer Henry Lewy—the sound is terrific, the best reproduced concert album I’ve heard.” Rolling Stone
  • If like us you’re a big Joni Mitchell fan, then this killer live album from 1974 belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1974 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

We recently had a chance to do another shootout for this album, and when you find a great copy the sound is out of this world. Not many live albums have this kind of “you are there” immediacy. Turn down the lights, crank up the volume, and you’ll be right there in the crowd as Joni and the LA Express (Tom Scott, Robben Ford, and the crew) knock out jazzy versions of some of her best material.

The brass sounds great — you can really hear the breath moving through the horns, with the all-important bite that brings their various characters to life.

I’d be remiss not to mention the amazing bottom end on this copy. The best sides have BIG, NOTE-LIKE bass that sets an unusually strong foundation for these great songs. You don’t usually get much bass on Joni’s studio albums, so Whomp-aholics like myself will find a copy like this to be quite a treat.

Just check out the songs on here:

  • You Turn Me On I’m A Radio,
  • Big Yellow Taxi,
  • Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire,
  • Circle Game,
  • People’s Parties,
  • All I Want,
  • Woodstock,
  • The Last Time I Saw Richard,

and on and on. Those are many of our very favorite Joni songs, and the versions on this album do not disappoint.

What the Best Sides of Miles of Aisles 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 1974
  • 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 studio space

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.

Great Live Arrangements

Joni reworks some of her most well-known material here, giving the songs new arrangements and making them fresh again.

Both this and her other live album, Shadows and Light, can have excellent sound on the better copies, although the sound — and especially the music — is markedly different on the two albums. Miles of Aisles sounds much more like her earlier work, with the kind of analog warmth we find on the best early ’70s recordings (and practically nowhere else).

Shadows, in contrast, has a harder, more modern sound, more like Wild Things Run Fast. It’s not necessarily worse — I’m sure that’s the sound that she wanted for her music at that time. That’s just the way her albums from that period sound. I think audiophiles will prefer the sound of her first live album, but both are certainly worth owning.

This album has the LA Express as her backing band, so if you hear echoes of Court and Spark in the music it’s not hard to see why.

What We’re Listening For on Miles of Aisles

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
  • Then: presence and immediacy. The vocals aren’t “back there” somewhere, lost in the mix. They’re front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt — Henry Lewy in this case — would have put them.
  • 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 so common to these LPs.
  • Tight punchy bass — which ties in with good transient information, also 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 instruments.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.

Vinyl Condition

Mint Minus Minus is about as quiet as any vintage pressing will play, and since only the right vintage pressings have any hope of sounding good on this album, that will most often be the playing condition of the copies we sell. (The copies that are even a bit noisier get listed on the site are seriously reduced prices or traded back in to the local record stores we shop at.)

Those of you looking for quiet vinyl will have to settle for the sound of other pressings and Heavy Vinyl reissues, purchased elsewhere of course as we have no interest in selling records that don’t have the vintage analog magic of these wonderful recordings.

If you want to make the trade-off between bad sound and quiet surfaces with whatever Heavy Vinyl pressing might be available, well, that’s certainly your prerogative, but we can’t imagine losing what’s good about this music — the size, the energy, the presence, the clarity, the weight — just to hear it with less background noise.


Side One

You Turn Me on I’m a Radio 
Big Yellow Taxi 
Rainy Night House 

Side Two

Cactus Tree

This song comes from a different concert than the rest of the tracks and never seems to sound as good.

Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire
Woman of Heart and Mind
A Case of You

Side Three

Circle Game 
People”s Parties 
All I Want 
Real Good for Free 
Both Sides Now

Side Four

The Last Time I Saw Richard 
Love or Money

Rolling Stone Review

Miles of Aisles is a four-sided live album with a greatest-hits feel to it that collects 18 numbers from Mitchell’s successful concert tour of last winter. It’s a strong album of her best songs performed mostly informally, backed on sides one and four by reedman Tom Scott and his band—an interesting album because it displays an occasional awkwardness that provides a glimpse into the artist’s mercurial character.

Although she constantly maintains a stunning professional control over her own performance, much of the pleasure of this record comes from the new band arrangements of songs we’ve heard often (one or two of which I’ve heard to death). Even “Woodstock,” which is now something of a hoary hippy anthem, gets a clever revitalization through Robben Ford’s biting guitar work that constructs a personality of its own as the concert builds.

Most of the new readings are superb. “Cactus Tree,” “A Case of You” and “Blue” once again knock me out with the seriousness of their romantic vision. The opening bars of “Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire” and “Woman of Heart and Mind” both elicit surprised gasps from an adoring audience that approaches a cult following, These and the other songs from For the Roses blew minds when they were first released, and on Miles of Aisles they are reproduced in a rare way — live versions of important songs that approach the crackling intensity of the recording studio originals. The exuberance and high spirits of “You Turn Me On, I’m a Radio” and “Big Yellow Taxi” are preserved intact, and again the interaction of Joni with the tasteful Scott quintet must be praised.

… In any case, much of the material here is beautiful, replete with the patented Mitchell tension. And a word for engineer Henry Lewy—the sound is terrific, the best reproduced concert album I’ve heard.