CD OF THE WEEK
JOANNA NEWSOM The Milk-Eyed Mender Drag City ****
There is (almost) nothing which gets music writers more excited than a new scene. Give it a name and we'll give it the column inches, which might explain why such artists as Devendra Banhart, Sufjan Stevens, Cocorosie and many others have been bundled uncomfortably together over the last few months under a New Weird America banner. Of course, there's nothing weird or necessarily American about what's coming from these acts, merely some very talented, highly individual artists telling stories and singing songs in a low-key, offbeam manner that hasn't been to the fore for a while.
As befits a singer-songwriter who's armed with a harp rather than an acoustic guitar, Joanna Newsom has also been lumped into this scene, but displays the gumption and ability to far outlive any fads or fashions. Utterly magical if disarmingly unconventional folk songs about sprouts, beans, crabs, feathers, leafs and other rustic concerns, Newsom's stories and fairytales are disarming in every possible way. The homespun insights on Peace Plum Pear or The Sprout & The Bean are delivered with a lovely, swooning lilt underpinned by rich, idiosyncratic harp-plucking.
While such avant-garde Americana will call to mind everything from Appalachian field recordings to English pyschedelic folk, there are enough distinctive tones to all of this to suggest and perhaps prove that recycling the past will always produce a future. An enthralling, exhilarating début. www.dragcity.com