An immaculate masterpiece of 70′s folk, “Blue” hasn’t aged a day since its release in June 1971. But why are today’s artists still so fascinated by this fourth, intimate album by the Canadian singer-songwriter ?

Film students are often told to watch Citizen Kane by Orson Welles. Aspiring writers are told to study À la recherche du temps perdu by Proust and budding painters are supposed to spend time in front of Sunflowers by Van Gogh. For apprentice singer-songwriters, the object of study has got to be Joni Mitchell’s Blue. Fifty years after its release on 22 June 1971, the Canadian’s fourth album is still a cornerstone of introspective folk. An acoustic guitar; a pure, clear voice; the singer’s past, her debts, her love, her laughter, passion, pain; and nothing else. The material is timeless, eternal, and today it still provides the template for thousands of albums stocked in the ‘confessional’ section of record stores. But behind this apparent lack of facade and these evergreen ingredients, Joni Mitchell managed to conceive a work of unparalleled grace and depth. It was a turning point in the career of the then 28-year-old musician.

Her popularity had already been boosted by her previous release, Ladies of the Canyon, which came out in spring 1970. That third album transformed her folk sound, with richer lyrics and increasingly subtle arrangements adding a whole new dimension to her music. Joni Mitchell was achieving unprecedented sophistication and becoming a unique star in the orbit of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, to whom she was still very much attached. The four musketeers of California's Laurel Canyon scene would cover her song 'Woodstock' a few months later. As for Mitchell, her song 'Willy' is openly about Graham Nash, with whom she was in a relationship. And the voices of the quartet resonate on 'The Circle Game', the intimate closing track on Ladies of the Canyon.