CD of the Week
Have One on Meby Joanna Newsom, Drag City *****
At a time when listening to an entire album in one sitting seems archaic, an artist offering a two-hour opus might seem at a disadvantage. But auteur harper Joanna Newsom has never done anything by rote. The Milk Eyed Meander(still one of Drag City’s biggest selling albums), conventional only in its 12-track length, was carried by a voice that mixed innocence and petulance. Many loved its high arcs; others balked at the shrill notes, but no one doubted Newsom’s originality – and indie harpers are rare enough.
After five sprawling tracks on 2006’s Ys, Newsom’s fecundity has evolved with Have One on Me. She still favours lengthy explorations: the title track (about Irish-born dancer Lola Montez) runs to 11 minutes. At first the album’s length is daunting, but throw yourself into it in one listen and its brilliance is revealed.
The aptly named Easy guides us in, and vocally there is a noticeable Kate Bush inflection. Good Intentions Paving Companyhas a rowdy roadtrip rhythm, but Newsom is mostly pensive, something that’s reflected in the tempo of many of the songs. Loss and upheaval feature, from relationships ending to leaving home, marking out personal themes.
Newsom produced the album herself, while Jim O’Rourke and Noah Georgeson divided up the mixing spoils. It’s bell-clear and full of space, where songs can accordion from scant compositions to vast, multi-instrument swells. Transportive and intense,
Ryan Francesconi’s subtle arrangements tease out the best from every sound, including Bulgarian tambura, Kaval and mandolins. And that’s without the centrepiece of Newsom’s harp and voice, the latter sounding more expansive and tempered around the edges.
It’s hard to single out a handful of songs on an album that doesn’t possess a scrap of filler, but Baby Birchand You and Me, Bessare sublime. Triple albums are a risk, but Newsom pulls this off beautifully. She also has a sense of humour, bowing out after 125 minutes with the stunning Does Not Suffice, a title that’s the antithesis of everything that has come before it. See joanna-newsom. com
Download tracks: Have One on Me, Good Intentions Paving Company, You and Me, Bess