Jackie Evancho on Songwriting and Rediscovering Joni Mitchell with Covers Album ‘Carousel of Time’

Joni Mitchell was always part of Jackie Evancho’s musical memory. Named after Joni Mitchell and James Taylor’s 1970 live album, Jackie Evancho’s Carousel of Time, a rendition of 10 Mitchell classics, moves back and forth, spanning the earlier chapters within Mitchell’s songbook.

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“I’ve heard her since as long as I can remember,” Evancho tells American Songwriter of Mitchell’s music. “And it was kind of just one of those things where I was listening to one of those ’70s playlists in the summer and heard her music and thought ‘this would be really fun.’ The idea was born.”

A follow-up to Evancho’s 2019 album, The Debut, covers of varied Broadway songs, Carousel of Time, produced by Fred Mollin and recorded at Sound Stage Studio in Nashville, finds Evancho exploring an artist more than five decades her senior, with the eloquence and contemplation of someone well beyond her 22 years.

“I really like the honesty within her music,” says Evancho of Mitchell. “It’s very, very authentic. And the way that she puts things is something that you really don’t hear much in music back then, and now, and I really admire that.”

Going back to the very beginning, Evancho pulls several tracks from Mitchell’s earlier days, opening on “Both Sides, Now,” a song first recorded by Judy Collins in 1968 before Mitchell released it on her second album Clouds a year later—Mitchell herself who re-recorded the song with an orchestral arrangement for her 2000 album Both Sides Now. Carousel of Time also weaves in another one of Evancho’s Clouds covers, “The Gallery.” 

When choosing songs from Mitchell’s catalog, Evancho gravitated to songs that immersed her the most. “Picking them was just basically listening to the songs and seeing which ones hit me hard in the chest and gave me chills, and made me feel deeply as I was listening to them,” ” shares Evancho. “I wanted to get across Joni’s beautiful music with a little bit of Jackie in there. I wanted to marry the two.”

Slipping into Mitchell’s Blue era, Evancho takes on the title track, along with “River,” and “A Case of You,” off her iconic album, love stories inspired by Mitchell’s relationship with James Taylor. Mitchell’s 1970 album, Ladies of the Canyon, gets attention with Evancho’s tender acoustic wrap on “For Free,” “The Circle Game,” and “Rainy Night House.” Going further back to Mitchell’s 1968 self-titled debut with “Song to a Seagull,” Carousel closed on “Urge for Going,” a track Tom Rush first recorded as a single in 1966 before Mitchell later revisited the song again in 1972 and released as a B-side for “You Turn Me On, I’m A Radio.”

Now 12 years since Evancho first gained recognition for her powerhouse vocals as a contestant on America’s Got Talent at the age of 10, and performing with the National Symphony, The New York Philharmonic, and Los Angeles Philharmonic, among other famed orchestras—as well as being the youngest person to give a solo concert at Lincoln Center—Carousel of Time sets a different stage for the artist, one laser-focused on the song and developing her craft.

“I typically write by myself, and it’s whatever comes first,” said Evancho, who is working on more original songs. “If it’s a lyric that I think is pretty and poetic, I’m going to write it down and put a melody to it. Then the idea sort of spirals, and sometimes it’s a melody that I put lyrics to. I work better solo writing, but I have been dabbling with co-writing in Nashville lately.”

Evancho added, “It’s constantly evolving, and, and it’s something that happens on its own. For me, it’s just experimenting with different sounds and embracing songwriting. It’s about being true to who I am now, and not being afraid to show that to my fans, and to the world.”

Songs she’s writing now are also some of her most personal and bare after she recently opened up about her battle with anorexia and being diagnosed with osteoporosis. 

“So far, the things I’ve written are very personal,” said Evancho. “And since I’ve recently come out about my health and experiences that weren’t all good, I think everything I’ve written so far is just further explaining my truth. A lot of songs are a bit darker in topic, but all of them are brutally honest, but that’s where I’m at in my life right now.”

Photo: Courtesy of KMJPR

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