Boomkat Product Review:
Joanna Newsom's new triple-album, defies the notion of fast-turnaround appraisals. Apart from sheer abundance of music here, it's also very dense and scrupulously laboured over, not only by Newsom herself but a select band of fellow musicians and arrangers - not to mention ace mixing engineers Jim O'Rourke, and Noah Georgeson (best known for his work with Devendra Banhart).
The end result is like a classic, old-fashioned album in the finest, richest sense. And in triplicate. After the ornate majesty of Ys (a mere double-album), you might expect a record of even larger proportions to pursue similarly baroque themes and concerns, and yet for much of the time 'Have One On Me' is a more approachable work, featuring shorter, more pared down pieces in addition to complex orchestral concoctions like the resplendent 'In California'. Georgeson's recordings of Newsom's harp are preposterously lovely, capturing her art at its most intimate on '81' and 'Jackrabbits', during which she performs solo to heart-rending effect, her voice sounding stronger and far more mature than on anything she's done previously.
The untamed, childlike quality that ran through The Milk Eyed Mender has transformed into something far wiser and more collected for this album - a factor that only heightens the authority and intelligence of the 28 year-old Californian's songwriting. In musical terms, the level of her accomplishment as a composer and instrumentalist is strikingly evident throughout her discography, but lyrically, Newsom's hugely impressive on this album. Ys charted the ascent of a truly great writer in-the-making but was, perhaps, occasionally excessive in its various whimsies and flirtations with fanciful anachronisms. Here Newsom is on startling form, lacing her achingly lovely narrative pieces with various lines that invite the inference of allusion to her break-up with fellow songwriter Bill Callahan. More intriguing still is the possibility of a furtive Will Oldham reference during 'Go Long': "There's a man/Who only will speak in code/Backing slowly, slowly down the road/May he master everything/That such men may know/About Loving, and then letting go" - a verse that seems to paraphrase three separate Bonnie 'Prince' Billy album titles.
Incidentally, 'Go Long' is a fairly special piece all-round, uniting Newsom's harp with kora and Bulgarian tambura for an otherworldly confluence of strings from various musical cultures. Regardless of its magnitude, and despite all of its complexities, this epic three-part undertaking shouldn't be thought of as unwieldy or intimidating prospect for a listener - far from it: scarcely has such an expansive record felt so welcoming and conducive to repeat listens. With this album Newsom sheds genre concerns (no more talk of 'freak-folk', please) and becomes a truly stellar writer of songs, continuing to forge a path that's very much of her own making whilst occasionally still acknowledging a debt to the likes of Joni Mitchell, Kate Bush and Judee Sill (whose work springs to mind during the remarkable 'Good Intentions Paving Company'). A magnificent record that really shouldn't be missed.