Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Album Review: Joanna Newsom - "Have One on Me" (9.8 out of 10)

I fully expect there to be statues of her erected one day, with your kids and grandkids asking - "Were you alive to hear her cd's released?! What was that like?!" Sometimes it's hard for me to believe that Joanna Newsom is actually a real 28 year old American girl and not some alien transferred to us as a gift from the 15th century. But enough of my initial gushing.
My Cookeville peeps will be shocked at this review of Joanna Newsom's new cd, because I have always been a bit critical of her; before this newest release, she was certain to clear rooms and empty coffee shops were she to be played...I have seen it happen! That child-like voice and renaissance modus operendi were just too much - unusual and jarring. But something has happened to our chanteuse in the past couple of years apparently. Her voice sounds more bluesy, more mature - some intangible has taken place that allows for a wider audience to give her a listen. And "Have One on Me" is the music release of the century so far, although to label her as pop or rock or indie would be a mistake. She is world music in the purest sense.
Laura Nyro, Melanie, George Gershwin, Kate Bush, Sufjan Stevens....there really is no other artist to compare her with fairly. I would just try and define her as a musical artist with flowing melodies, sparse production (complete with a chamber orchestra on most songs which accompany her harp or piano playing), and word painting lyrics which will take many, many listens to begin to digest. This is timeless and enduring stuff. A meal; a feast. She honestly reminds me mostly of an early 20th century composer, say, a Satie, Elgar, Faure, Ravel; she just uses a different form. Most of her songs are simply a melody that she repeats over and over again with increasing embellishment. She's not a pop singer with a verse, chorus and a bridge. Most songs are like old Appalachian folk songs - compelling and haunting. Mournful, reflective elegies. My one slight concern (and I'm sure it's because I'm a mortal) is that most of the songs clock in at at least 6 minutes long. Could there have been better editing perhaps? Also, her voice....yes, it's more accessible and expressive, but I can see some folks not being to overcome it enough to embrace the songs as they should be. The highlights are "Baby Birch," "In California," "'81," "You and Me Bess," and the magnum opus "Good Intentions Paving Company" which, to me, is the song of the year, if not the century. The part from around 1:46- 2:26 is the stuff of legend. So I'm throwing it down: this is a classic, legendary cd and will endure the test of time - keeping in mind that this is not a pop/rock cd or review. Just a music review, so don't be surprised when you aren't able to dance to it. And, keeping in mind, that the full effect of "Have One on Me" won't happen unless you have the lyrics in front of you. Reading the Dickinson-like lyrics while you listen to the songs is the equivalent of putting on 3-D glasses at a movie designed for the 3-D glasses. It propells you into a different world; a world, I dare-say that has rarely existed in the history of music, for it is the perfect wedding of music and literature. She has created her very own art form. And I'm sure some dull-witted reviewers won't "get it" and punish it with a bad or average score, such as the PopMatters reviewer, who probably also thinks that Grizzly Bear and Animal Collective are the new Beatles, when neither are even a poor man's Wings. Do not listen to these false prophets. In 2110, "Have One on Me" will be regarded as a landmark in all of musical and artistic history. She would get a perfect score here, but I thought the title track just didn't go anywhere. Alas. (9.8 out of 10)

If I were any other artist, I would wait from now on to release my cd on any other week but Joanna's week. Everything else I heard was a massive disappointment, especially Shearwater's cd. Just awful. Also, Tegan and Sara's new video for their song "Alligator" is up and running on YouTube. Amazing. I'm still so bitter about critics not giving them their due, but whatever. It drove me to start this blog.


  1. First of all. I am missing a Tegan and Sara show because of work tonight. Devastation. Also, NPR really liked her CD too; I just heard the story.

  2. Bryan,
    You must review Mumford & Sons and Broken Bells. I have promised myself not to eat until you do so. Please hurry.

  3. Oh no Melissa!!! You're gonna hate me, but if you scroll down, you'll see that I did review Mumford...and I didn't like it! :( You like Fleet Foxes though, right? I will listen to Broken Bells....and then maybe we can be friends again? :)