Album Review

Joni Mitchell - At Newport

There is plenty to love here; Mitchell is clearly having a blast, and the significance of the occasion overcomes some, but not all, of the weaker moments.

Joni Mitchell - At Newport Album Cover
July 24, 2023 12:45 pm GMT

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Joni Mitchell – At Newport

Label: Rhino

Release Date:July 28th, 2023

Producers: Brandi Carlile and Joni Mitchell

Tracklisting:

1. Introduction by Brandi Carlile

2. Big Yellow Taxi

3. A Case Of You

4. Amelia

5. Both Sides Now

6. Just Like This Train

7. Summertime

8. Carey

9. Help Me (Celisse)

10. Come In From The Cold

11. Shine

12. The Circle Game

We can safely assume that everyone is aware of Joni Mitchell’s sudden return to live music in July, 2022 at the prestigious Newport Folk Festival.

The hour long performance from the iconic figure, her first there since 1969, became legendary even before the last note was played; videos immediately going viral across social media as friends, contemporaries and many artists Mitchell has influenced celebrated her comeback.

A year later, the gig’s official recording allows everyone who hasn’t already seen the numerous YouTube clips a chance to experience it in professionally mixed and mastered audio.

It’s easy to get caught up in the sheer exuberance of the momentous occasion; Mitchell’s unannounced return to the stage marked seven years since her debilitating brain aneurism and her only live show since 2000. Once you get past the historic nature though, cracks understandably appear.

There are unquestionably some breathtaking moments. Few can listen to the 78-year-old Mitchell’s emotionally charged ‘Both Sides Now’ and not get choked up.

Her now throaty voice, the result of a lifetime of heavy smoking, peels apart the layers of the song with exquisite stripped-down piano and cello backing, as she sings “I really don’t know life at all”. All before breaking out in a husky laugh.

Kudos to Brandi Carlile, Mitchell’s most visible and ardent supporter, for being the instigator behind the event, hiring an all-star band with stellar supporting vocalists (Allison Russell, Wynonna Judd, Shooter Jennings), and producing this audio document.

But the caffeinated, sometimes giddy Carlile injects herself a little too conspicuously into the proceedings, singing along and acting as a hyper-effusive cheerleader. Joni surely approved this, but the results are inconsistent.

The “Joni Jam”, as the set was billed, implied that other artists would be covering her material. That does occur; singer Celisse takes an interesting turn on an overly convoluted arrangement of ‘Help Me’ and Dawes’ Taylor Goldsmith, who sings most of ‘Come In From the Cold’. Nevertheless, Carlile handles the bulk of ‘Carey’, mixing Mitchell’s voice so low she is barely audible.

Joni’s jazzy vocals make it difficult to align with her approach, which zigs, zags and loops around each melody. When Carlile and Goldsmith try to match every lyric on the wordy ‘Amelia’, the effect is muddled.

Joni seems strong enough to carry that tune herself, making their contributions unnecessary and even distracting. Ditto for ‘Shine’, a rather obscure selection where Carlile again grabs the spotlight, providing vocal accompaniment for a piece that would be more potent without her. 

Balancing those frustrations, Mitchell plays some twisty electric guitar on ‘Just Like This Train’, absolutely kills on a sensitive yet torchy ‘Summertime’ and assures there’s not a dry eye in the house with the closing sing-along of ‘Circle Game’.

There is plenty to love here; Mitchell is clearly having a blast, and the significance of the occasion overcomes some, but not all, of the weaker moments.

It’s also impossible to ignore the lump in your throat that’s brought on by the reemergence of one of the century’s most renowned songwriters; thankfully once again back in the spotlight, where she belongs.

6.5 / 10

Joni Mitchell's 2023 live album, At Newport, is released July 28th via Rhino.

Written by Hal Horowitz
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