JOANNA NEWSOM: Have One On Me (Drag City)


Posted on Mar 2nd 2010 12:57 am

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Joanna Newsom: Have One On Me

Have One On Me
Drag City 2010
18 Tracks. 124mins01secs

Amazon UK: CD | LP | DLD US: CD | LP | DLD Boomkat: CD | LP iTunes: DLD

Joanna Newsom could only follow the sheer brilliance of the majestic Ys, released three and a half ago already, by rising up to a challenge of a different kind. Have One On Me is a daunting affair by any standards. Eighteen songs spread over three discs and two hours, this is epic in every possible way, but there is here very little left of the expensive orchestrations devised by Van Dyke Parks. Instead, Ys Street Band leader Ryan Francesconi brings Newsom’s songs to life in much more subtle ways, drafting in banjos, acoustic and electric guitars, Bulgarian tambura, kaval, mandolin, Hammond organ, strings, brass and woodwinds, while Newsom alternates between the harp and the piano, her style as assertive with the latter as it is light and sharp with the former.

The songs, while still often developing over several minutes, are in general more contained, but there is no such a thing as traditional song forms in Miss Newsom’s work. Verses, bridges and choruses are, for the most part, irrelevant. Instead, each song goes through multiple variations and changes in pace, tone or style, the melody never entirely set in stone, responding rather to the variations in Newsom’s intricate lyrics. And lyrics are, even more so than with Ys, really the key to these songs and to Newsom’s work. She has lost none of the imaginative and fertile story-telling forms that gave Ys an identity all of its own. In fact, the scope appears ever broader, more ambitious here. There are, scattered over the whole records, stories of lost love, love found, acclaimed dancers, the melancholy of autumn… told in ways so refined and poetic that it is easy to get lost in the meanders of phrases and meanings. This is, it seems, part of the game, as if Newsom was weaving seemingly random threads into tightly knit webs around her listener. This works particularly well on the title track, which snakes its way through wonderfully delicate harp arpeggios and orchestral ebbs and flows to. The song tells of Irish-born dancer Lola Montez, who became mistress of King Ludwig I of Bavaria in the seventeenth century, and who is said to be at the origin of the phrase ‘whatever Lola wants, Lola gets’. On Good Intentions Paving Company, Baby Birch, California or Go Long, Newsom transforms the mundane into epic tales. Elsewhere, she draws exquisite poetic motifs, on the superb ’81, On A Good Day or Autumn, all either performed on her own or with a particularly discreet backdrop, while on No Provenance, her vocals are beautifully underlined by the light arabesques of a woodwind quartet.

The shrieking voice of The Milk-Eyed Mender had soften greatly by the time Joanna Newsom came to record Ys, and is softer, more controlled and nuanced here still, yet it has retained much of its natural naivety and charm, allowing her to play on a much broader palette. Now sounding more demure and feminine, she remains a fearless and supremely confident vocalist, who can switch from sweet to sour in an instant. Nowadays though, she does so with much more maturity and discipline, and while some may regret the untrained freedom of her early works, this restraint serves these songs admirably.

Have One On Me is at odds with the modern world, where information has to be accessible in a flash and albums have become an obsolete concept. Here, Newsom celebrates the gentle passing of time and gives plenty to think over. Its sheer size makes this album a difficult pill to absorb and process all at once. For all its intricacies and lushness, Ys had a level of immediacy which is partly absent here. The songs of Have One On Me require sustained attention and active listening to unlock and appreciate their inner beauty, and it may be that it is an album best experienced in small chunks, at least at first, but the reward at the end of it is more than worth the effort.


Drag City
Amazon UK: CD | LP | DLD US: CD | LP | DLD Boomkat: CD | LP iTunes: DLD

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4 Responses to “JOANNA NEWSOM: Have One On Me (Drag City)”

  1. S-M Robinsonon 02 Mar 2010 at 2:32 am

    I don’t know. Maybe it’s because I wanted to like this album so much that I am disappointed, and i’ll try to relisten to it in a few weeks, but there isn’t any tug from it, other than the wonderful little “’81” and 2 or 3 others.

    I also felt that the production on some of the songs really destroy the intimacy of Joanna’s voice and poetry. THere are moments where even with a $400 pair of headphones, I can’t understand what the hell she is singing.

    I appreciate that the intent is to make epic the mundane, but many of the songs just are limp and are filled with straw in a way that doesn’t make me want to chew through the ruffage to get to the diamond amulet inside.

    I like it, but I’m not drawn back into the mysteries and narratives, and I think that’s disappointing.

  2. themilkmanon 02 Mar 2010 at 9:25 am

    It took me some pretty intensive listening sessions to get into it and go beyond the more obvious songs, like ’81 which you mentioned, Good Intention Paving Company and Kingfisher, which were the three songs that were put out a bit before the album. Even California, which I liked from the start, took me a few listens to get my head round fully. But then, as I listened to the album again and again, other songs started to be singled out, like Baby Birch for instance, which is one of the highlights for me, Go Long, No Provenance, Easy… I must admit though that I struggled with CD 3, which just didn’t register until I decided to listen to it on its own, then Soft As Chalk, Autumn or Does Not Suffice also started to make sense. I think I’ve only scratched the surface of it still, which I find a totally exciting prospect. The more I am listening to this album, the more I am getting obsessed with it.

    I do agree though that the production seems much more DIY than that of Ys at times, but it hasn’t overshadowed the quality of the songs for me so far.

  3. […] between the audience and the stage whilst Newsom retuned her harp later in the show. Songs from the new album made up most of the set, with Have One On Me, Easy or In California taking proud place in the […]

  4. THE 2010 REVIEW | themilkfactoryon 19 Dec 2010 at 10:58 pm

    […] 33. TVO/THE VILLAGE ORCHESTRA We Can Remember It For You Wholesale (Broken20) 34. JOANNA NEWSOM Have One On Me (Drag City) 35. ICARUS All Is For The Best In The Best Of All Possible Worlds (Not Applicable) 36. […]