“You know, if you sing it pretty, like a lot of people that cover my songs will sing it pretty, it’s going to fall flat,” she reflects in the liner notes. “You have to bring more to it than that.” A beautiful woman (as she’s identified, tirelessly, by industry men in the collection’s newspaper clippings and audio snippets) insisting that there was much more to her than just beauty was its own kind of subversion. So over these four years of remarkable artistic growth, we can also hear the thrill of a woman shrugging off the shackles of affably feminine likability and politeness. In the liner notes, she quotes — of all spiritual gurus — the mantra of Thumper from “Bambi”: “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”
“That was my philosophy for a long time as a young person,” Mitchell adds, “however, I lost Thumper’s guidance as I grew older.”
A thorough but imposing six hours of material, this collection is less about any specific unearthed gem than the larger transformation it charts. The final disc, featuring three consecutive live sets from October 1967, showcases a performer with lifetimes’ more wisdom than the happy-to-be-here ingénue of 1963.
Its most breathtaking moment comes when she plays an early arrangement of “Little Green,” the candid ode to the daughter she’d put up for adoption. (Here, unlike the version that later appeared on “Blue,” she sings her daughter’s name in a rich, yearning wail: “Kelly green.”) Just four years earlier, Mitchell could hardly tell a soul the secrets of her inner world; now, for strangers, she’s singing the song of herself with arresting candor.
Or maybe, in the vulnerable exchange of these songs she’s learned to craft, there’s no such thing as a stranger. “I write it with the optimism that people will be able to see themselves in it,” she says in the liner notes. “Therefore, we have a common experience. But that’s the only way I can justify writing as intimately as I do. I think it’s only human, and then other humans will feel this.”