Saturday, May 1, 2010

Today is a Day for Joanna Newsom's "Have One on Me" (2010)

Ok, well, I have succumbed. Having not been too terribly fond of Newsom's previous two releases (2004's The Milk-Eyed Mender and 2006's Ys)[they were OK, but I found them a bit tedious and hard to listen to with any regularity], I have now been listening to parts of 2010's Have One on Me on a semi-regular basis over the course of the last 8 weeks or so. Parts? Did I say parts? When can an album not be listened to all the way through in one day? The answer is when it is a triple-LP that clocks in at around 2 hours, 3 minutes, and 57 seconds. Anyway, point is, I succumbed and am now a Joanna Newsom-convert.

While the obligitory Kate Bush and Joni Mitchell references are included in most of the album's reviews in the usual places, it is best to expand beyond those comparisons. That said, the Bush and Mitchell similarities are undeniable and one can't really be blamed for bringing them up. I have seen other music comparisons for Newsom ranging from Victoria Williams to Bjork, from "Olive" Oil (yes, Popeye's wife) to Cat Power, and from Syd Barrett to the Carter Family. While only the "Olive" reference would give the uninitated some pause for thought, I think we should be judging Newsom on her own merits and not get too caught up on her musical touchstones.

The new triple album is daring and really darn good. It is still revealing itself to me as I make my way through each of the discs. While I have some triple-studio albums that have gotten regular listens over the years (Sandinista! by The Clash, 69 Love Songs by The Magnetic Fields, and George Harrison's All Things Must Pass spring to mind), there aren't too many of them out there. And there aren't too many of them out there for good reason--they are really tough to pull off. I hazard to guess that there are hundreds (maybe more?) of cases where record labels have pulled the plug on an artist's delusional thoughts that they could successfully put out a triple-album. Nonetheless, some artists get around this by releasing a bunch of single LPs over the course of a year to try and "sneak" triple albums on the market (eg. Ryan Adams, Robert Pollard, John Zorn, etc.) through the "he's/she's just so prolific" loophole.

But back to Have One on Me -- it is good that her label Drag City supported her on this release. It is outstanding. And this is coming from a guy who has spent a lifetime disliking the harp. And I really mean disliking the harp. I have hated harps as much as I have hated recumbent bicycles and polka-dotted ties--a whole damn bunch. Maybe I just hadn't heard the right harpist and the right songs.

I won't be going off the deep end and joining my good friend Dave Eggers in the Newsom cult quite yet, but I do expect that this album will be on my playlist for years to come and secure a high position on my Best of 2010 list. Her big story and small story lyrics along with the lush arrangements (and strengthened voice) transport this listener into all of her micro and macro narratives. Some are silly and some are dense. Some are confusing and some are literal. The map is hard to read and I find myself pausing and asking for directions a number of times, but the journey itself has been rewarding. This album will be referenced by many people for a long time to come. 3 loud cheers for Newsom and her crazy worlds. They are very fun to visit.

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