Review: Joni Mitchell Shares Magic and Mystique on ‘At Newport’

Joni Mitchell/At Newport/JMA/Rhino
4.5 out of Five Stars

What becomes a legend the most? For one thing, it’s a heralded return to the Newport Folk Festival for the first time in 53 years to perform with the most ardent artists and admirers while sharing timeless classics with a crowd of adoring and emotive fans. Joni Mitchell did exactly that when she made a surprise appearance at the Newport Folk Festival last year, making a return to the stage that few people would have ever thought possible after a near-crippling aneurysm that not only threatened to end her career, but her life as well.

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Consequently, it was nothing short of miraculous when she walked out from the wings, ostensively for what was billed as a “Joni Jam,” but what turned out to be a sweet serenade by the woman herself. Seated in a throne befitting her stature, she was given heartfelt support from Brandi Carlile, Lucius, Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes, Allison Russell, drummer Matt Chamberlain, Blake Mills, Marcus Mumford, and a host of assorted devotees. And while most of us weren’t there to witness it in person, the emotion and feeling of community and continuity are still apparent in every note and nuance of this extraordinary aural document.

There were tears shed on that fateful evening, and in listening now, even from the distance of time and place, it’s hard not to get caught up in the sentiment shared both on and off that festival stage. 

Naturally, the songs themselves are enough of an enticement. Communal reads of “Big Yellow Taxi,” “A Case of You,” “Amelia,’ “Both Sides Now,” “Carey,” “Help Me,” and the sing-along closer, “The Circle Game,” were obviously enough to bring back precious memories of the once waif-like songbird soaring in full flight. Mitchell’s voice is deeper now, bereft of her former soprano, but she still manages to sing with a rich resonance that illuminates certain songs—“A Case Of You” and “Amelia” in particular. Throughout it all, her comments, aside and frequent chuckles reflect a light-hearted attitude and the sheer delight of once again being able to make her presence known.

Cameron Crowe’s liner notes effectively capture the connection between past and present, sharing intimate details and reflections on the feelings that flowed so freely from that stage. A remarkable recording, it can easily be considered an album for the ages.

Photo by Shannon Finney/Getty Images

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