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« THE SOFT PACK - S/T | Main | LEROI JONES (AMIRI BARAKA) - Black Music »
Sunday
Mar072010

JOANNA NEWSOM - Have One On Me

When Ms. Newsom's last long-player became one of the most unwieldy buzz albums in recent memory, it was a release that was a whole lot easier to admire than it was to enjoy. That's not a dis of the rather remarkable Ys, more a necessary acknowledgment of just how high—and awkwardly so—that she placed the bar for her listeners. A dense album where most songs hovered around ten minutes and were often devoid of recognizable verses and chorus, all delivered in a challengingly idiosyncratic, squeaky baby-voiced mewl—it's a commitment for sure. So how is it that her brand-new follow-up, Have One On Me, is three times the length, crammed with more chorus-less tunes of similarly unmanageable lengths, and yet is by far the more accessible record? It's a head-scratcher at first. But immediately upon throwing on this seemingly endless album, the difference is palpable: it's her voice. It still sounds like her to a point, only it is now more well-rounded and mature. Most importantly, that signature coyly child-like curl to her phrasing—so off-putting for many—is dramatically reduced here. The result changes Newsom's persona from that of a sideshow curiosity to one of experience and sagely insight. Instead of a record that one feels like they need to crack like some aural Rubik's Cube, Have One On Me becomes an absolutely fascinating and absorbing session. Like an interview with an old theatre actor whose eloquent recalling of myriad tales you could let wind on forever (I'm thinking Christopher Plummer myself), this record just goes and goes and goes...and you're quite happy to let it do so. Perhaps the highest compliment you could pay Have One On Me is how much it recalls the more eccentric moments of Joni Mitchell's career. Joanna sounds a lot like Joni right now, for starters. But she has the wit, courage, and individuality to match, too. You kind of always got the impression that Joanna Newsom was wise beyond her years, but the real thrill in following her career will be hearing the years in her voice catch up to that wisdom.

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