Joanna Newsom music review

When Joanna Newsom first appeared with The Milk Eyed Mender in 2004

Music feature

Have One on Me

When Joanna Newsom first appeared with The Milk Eyed Mender in 2004, she was easy to dismiss: an elfin little folkie with a wittering voice and – of all things – a harp. However, her follow-up – 2006’s epic Ys, which managed to be almost an hour long despite containing five songs – topped many best-of-the-year lists and sold remarkably well for a deeply unfashionable, technically proficient piece of folk-prog.

So now we have a triple album – a triple album, people! – with 18 songs over two hours. It’s a lot to digest, not least because Newsom’s songs demand serious attention, but the 11-minute title track acts as a neat distillation of Newsom’s development. The first movement has her cooing gently over cascading arpeggios as in her debut, but then abruptly changes gear into the stabbing pizzicato of her Ys-era work, while strings, mandolin, brass and percussion build and ebb behind her, almost overwhelmingly. And then, at the eight-and-a-half minute mark, she freakin’ breaks it down – and just as you’re ready to sing along with the massed vocals, the Newsom of the introduction returns. Genius.

The rest of the album is equally playful, and on a purely technical level the singing is magnificent. As an artistic achievement, Have One on Me is amazing – but, more remarkably, it’s possibly the only triple album ever released that doesn’t outstay its welcome. If you’ve resisted her peculiar charms until now, this is the time to succumb.
Andrew P Street
Available now online.

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