Joni Mitchell’s second album enhanced her reputation, winning a Grammy for best folk album. Clouds is an interesting album to rate – it’s a very good folk album, with some great songs, and I’m sure that some fans prefer folk-oriented Joni and regard it as the pinnacle of her career. But in my opinion, the simple presentation counts against it – it’s performed solely by Mitchell, accompanying herself on guitar, apart from the a capella ‘The Fiddle and the Drum’, and it’s less interesting than her more idiosyncratic later work.
Although it draws from songs she’d had in her stockpile – Live at the Second Fret 1966 features ‘Both Sides Now’ and ‘I Don’t Know Where I Stand’, Clouds is tangibly more mature lyrically than her debut with fewer hippie overtones and less verbosity. There are at least two stone cold Joni Mitchell classics on Clouds; it’s difficult to talk too much about ‘Both Sides Now’ since it’s a pop standard, but it’s a masterpiece of lyric writing – the three verses symmetrically examining clouds, love, and life. ‘That Song About The Midway’ is a gorgeous melody, with Mitchell’s voice effortlessly hitting high notes. The starkness of ‘The Fiddle And The Drum’ disrupts the flow, but overall Clouds is her most accomplished early work.
Clouds might be a milestone of 1960s folk, but Mitchell was just getting started.