Joanna Newsom Have One on Me

Joanna Newsom Have One on Me
Joanna Newsom chose to announce her latest album, Have One on Me, with a comic. This was the perfect way to approach the promotion of her new album, a three-disc masterpiece that's much lighter than 2006's Ys, and even poppy. What's more shocking is that, in spite of the triple album's auditory heft, there isn't one song on the 18-track record that should've been cut. This time around, Joanna Newsom's manner is markedly softer. Her vocals are smooth, at times recalling early Carole King and Joni Mitchell, especially on "California." Unlike previous efforts, her trademark polyrhythmic harp playing is scarce. Instead, Newsom has expanded her sound with piano, horns, medieval instruments, stunning harmonies, lush strings and in "Birch Baby," someone, somewhere is playing a dissonant electric guitar. Somehow it all works, maybe because on this record she succeeds in marrying the gentle accessibility of Milk Eyed Mender with the baroque orchestral tapestry of Ys. Don't expect any epic 16-minute adventures; the longest track clocks in at just over nine minutes. Still, it's rich with mini-epics, woven together with the same familiar, lush orchestration that somehow miraculously dodges sounding like Fantasia. Finally, there's such thing as a happy medium. Joanna Newsom certainly seems happy. In the six years since her critically acclaimed debut, she's become a more mature songwriter. Her songs occasionally eschew cryptic lyrics and delve into the deeply personal and, at times, her lyrics are transparent. For example, nowhere on this record does she sing abstrusely about a "clam," "crab," "cockle" or "cowrie." "Does Not Suffice," a beautiful ballad, even describes waking up in bed next to someone and watching said person walk to the shower. Her previous albums wouldn't dare feature this plain type of imagery. For all we knew, she was bathed by sprites in magical rivers. This isn't to say this latest offering isn't just as bewitching as her last two records, but because of this very fact, it's even more spellbinding. Maybe it's because Joanna Newsom isn't being nearly as clandestine as on previous efforts. But of course, she's still as enchanting. No matter how you slice it, Have One on Me feels like exactly that: a kind gesture from a friend. (Drag City)