“Joanna Newsom got old.” That is the very first thought that came to mind as I listened to Have One On Me, Newsom‘s latest release on Drag City. Perhaps, this is an “unkind” thing to say; her protests to descriptions of her music as “childlike” are almost legendary and I get where she’s coming from. The term “Childlike” can have some negative connotations and might suggest an element of simple-mindedness, naivety, or immaturity, for which Newsom has never been any of those things. Her songs are rich, diverse, and, at times, profoundly moving. Plus, I’m sure that I’m not the only one who has reached for a dictionary more than once, after digging into her lyrics (who would have expected “poetaster” to be an actual word?). Still, one can’t help but listen to earlier works like The Milk-Eyed Mender and the CD-R release Walnut Whales, and think of descriptors like “youthful” and “playful.” Even her last album Ys inspires the imagination to wander to Princess Bride-like fairy tale settings, regardless of the fact that she’s singing about abusive relationships and the very real-world ups and downs of love.
Ok, so Joanna Newsom hasn’t really gotten “old” ( Hell, she’s only a year older than I am), but she has developed, and you can hear it. The squeak and yelp of her voice has calmed considerably. At times, new tracks, like “’81” and “Baby Birch“, still hint at a mythic by-gone era but, for the most part, Have One On Me feels a lot closer to “contemporary” than her past works. This new album even finds the songstress stepping away from the harp more often and giving the piano more attention than she has in the past. For this effort, she has brought back most of the Ys Street Band and thrown in an accompanying orchestra, playing Ryan Francesconi‘s arrangements, but Have One On Me remains considerably toned down, in comparison to that of Van Dyke Parks arrangements showcased on Ys. In short, Joanna has scaled back a lot of the quirks that won her a cult following. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some quirks, but it actually turns out that Joanna Newsom doesn’t need them. Have One On Me proves that she can simply write good songs and I believe that, if she were to make a play for the mainstream chunk of potential fans, this is the album to do it with.
But lets get down to brass tacks, shall we? “How is the album?” Its good, you guys… it’s damn good. I can’t say that it’s my favorite of her works, not yet anyway, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it became my favorite in a year or two, but I guess that remains to be seen. The greatest strength on this effort is the ebb and flow of the entire album sequence. If you have 2 hours to burn, it is really best to take the whole thing in at once (I, personally, spent a lot of time listening to the album while playing Chrono Trigger). It has the ability to sweep you away and, when the 2 hours and 4 minutes is up, you won’t even be sick of it. In fact, you may even be kinda bummed that there wasn’t more; if not the first time, then the second time, or maybe even the third. That’s another thing about Have One On Me, it’s one of those albums that “grows on you” and can almost build it’s appeal subtly and in reverse. You’ll find little hooks and gems in some of the songs and the corresponding songs will sorta unfold themselves around them. From there, the entire album finds itself unfolding around the songs. At least, that’s how it works for me.
Of course there are a few stand-out tracks that do work independently well outside of the album as a whole. These are songs fitting enough to throw on your iPod’s “Goin to work” mix. “’81“, for example is simple but has the ability to burrow into your soul from the very first second of hearing it. “Good Intentions Paving Company” has a nice bump to it, which harkens back to Dolly Parton‘s 9 to 5. “On A Good Day” is short and sweet, with hints of the type of traditional tunes that one might hear in the fields of the British Isles, while the song “Kingfisher” would likely seem more at home in the royal courts. For my money, however, “Baby Birch” is the best track on this release, by far. For the first two-thirds, it just takes its time to sweetly hang in the air. Then, about 6 minutes in, the pace picks up, the drums kick in and it becomes like a religious experience.
So look… if you already like Joanna Newsom, you are going to like this album and, If you are not a fan of Joanna Newsom‘s previous albums, you should probably check it out anyway, because plenty has changed since the last time that you last heard her. This release it is packed full of music! If you’ve seen the album cover (click image above to enlarge), It’s a lot like that, except with music! [Fun Fact: All of that crap in the photo actually came from her house?] There is definitely a lot to dig into on this new release and expect to be digging for a while, so you definitely get your money’s worth. Have One On Me WILL be appearing on the “Best of the Year” lists so, if you’re the type of person who relies on those, there’s no need to bother waiting for that to validate your purchase.
If, for one reason or another, you didn’t find my review to be helpful enough, here’s what “LePlatypope” said about Have One On Me on Last.FM: “This album makes me feel the same way my dick makes girls feel. That’s the only way I can describe this majesty.”
Which, I think, sort of has its own ring to it.
Have One On Me is available from Drag City records in following formats: