The third in Joni Mitchell's ongoing series of thematic compilations drawn from her stellar back catalog, Songs of a Prairie Girl is described by Mitchell in her liner notes as "my contribution to Saskatchewan's Centennial celebrations," an appropriate gesture since she spent most of her childhood in Saskatoon, a city in that Canadian province. Most of the songs on Songs of a Prairie Girl deal in one way or another with childhood or adolescence, often with a bittersweet edge; there's little in the way of unbridled nostalgia, with "Let the Wind Carry Me" and "Urge for Going" expressing the desire to escape the boundaries of small-town life, and "Ray's Dad's Cadillac" and "Song for Sharon" recalling equal measures of joy and remorse in the misadventures of her teen years. Mitchell's music also splendidly conjures up the wintry space of the Canadian plains, especially on the epic "Paprika Plains" from Don Juan's Reckless Daughter (appearing here in a new mix that reduces the emphasis on the orchestra in favor of Joni's piano) and the symphonic version of "Cherokee Louise." And while there are moments of remembered joy (particularly on "Harlem in Havana"), for the most part Songs of a Prairie Girl is, by design, a meditation on the broad and snowy spaces of Saskatchewan, and Mitchell herself advises with tongue in cheek that the listeners should "get yourself a hot beverage and stand by the heater as you listen." As a collection of lesser-known material ("Raised on Robbery" is the only "hit" here), Songs of a Prairie Girl once again casts a well-considered glance on a less-explored aspect of Mitchell's work, and these songs convey the mingled pleasure and sadness of growing up with the careful eye of a true artist, as well as the crisp if faded memories of the home she left so many years ago. Beautiful stuff, and richly rewarding.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming