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Joni Mitchell, 'The Dawntreader'

On March 19, 1968, an amateur recording engineer set up his gear at Le Hibou, a coffeehouse in Ottawa, Canada. He taped two sets by Joni Mitchell, who was 24 at the time. That recording engineer, a Mitchell fan, was none other than Jimi Hendrix, who'd played his own gigs a few blocks away. Hendrix's tapes were stolen, only to surface five decades later and get returned to Mitchell. His crystalline recording of "The Dawntreader" reveals a spellbinding performance — just Mitchell and her guitar — similar to what the world would hear just days later when her first album was released. One of Mitchell's most atmospheric songs, "The Dawntreader" unfolds in a dreamlike nautical setting of sunken treasure, mermaids and mysterious "songs that the rigging makes." The unconventional guitar tunings, her self-described "chords of inquiry," offer an orchestra's worth of color and texture in a song that, 53 years on, still possesses a singular haunting power. This track is part of Mitchell's ongoing archival project, and will be issued Oct. 29 on Joni Mitchell Archives Vol. 2: The Reprise Years (1968-1971).

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Tom Huizenga is a producer for NPR Music. He contributes a wide range of stories about classical music to NPR's news programs and is the classical music reviewer for All Things Considered. He appears regularly on NPR Music podcasts and founded NPR's classical music blog Deceptive Cadence in 2010.
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