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April 19, 2010 | by  | in Music |
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Joanna Newsom—Have One On Me

Joanna Newsom has always been an artist whose music demands attention, good or bad. For every devout Newsom-ite there is someone who will go out of their way to invent new words to describe the way in which they loathe her voice. Despite playing the harp, her indie-famous boyfriends and her connections with a media-created ‘freak-folk’ scene, that voice has always been the talking point. And to me, her voice has always defined the nature of her work. The line between wide-eyed naïveté and a sense of searching, and the wizened reflections of someone beyond her years is often blurry, but, as with any great artist, this balance informs the listener’s understanding of her reactions to life.

Here, as ever, that relationship is present, but she is sounding more relaxed. The shift in overall tone is perhaps the major change on Have One On Me (HOOM), her third full-length (but first triple) album. As was well documented in interviews, her last album, Ys, was created in a year of massive life-changing events, and those songs were a reflection of that. Devastatingly gripping but not easy listening ensued. Within the first few moments of HOOM, Newsom almost sighs the line “Easy, easy / My man and me / We could rest and remain here, easily”, making it obvious that this will not be Ys 2.0. While that album may be regarded by some to be her definitive and unsurpassable masterpiece, this is a more sprawling and comfortable masterwork—a lot of it is even bluesy, akin to early Joni Mitchell, and with horn sections to boot.

Perhaps it is my own move to a new city that made me form such a strong connection with this album, which also finds Newsom living away from her home and family, as much of the lyrical content expresses her homesickness. ‘In California’, in particular, is a straightforward ode to her hometown. I’m a sucker for that kind of romanticism.

This is the album which should cement her status as one of the foremost American songwriters of her generation. Having witnessed her perform live twice, it still baffles me how she manages to pluck complex polyrythms on an enormous twelve-pedal harp while singing the screeds of intricate prose which her songs contain; and she manages to come out the other side cracking hilarious self-deprecating jokes! Her songs, too, are filled with her quick wit. There is plenty to digest here, at 18 songs and over two hours long, but it is more a collection to dip in to. It functions like your favourite volume of poetry: a lot to take in at once, but endlessly satisfying and giving.

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Comments (13)

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  1. Jeanne says:

    Brilliant review! You could not have summed up this incredible album from this incredible woman better!

  2. kiri schumacher says:

    yes, you’re right about it functioning like a volume of poetry. Sometimes to just dip into for one song, sometimes to get lost in for a while. Go Seb

  3. Michael Oliver says:

    This is writing. Awesome.

  4. Sam says:

    Best review I have read in ages. Refreshing to finally find someone who knows what they’re on about. Really honest and insightful. Keep it up!

  5. Genevieve says:

    WOW…. Who is the artist in our midst? Good England Seb…excellent review….You are heading to make zillions in the music critic career

  6. smackdown says:

    give the rest of the music snobs the boot and make seb full time music king

  7. smackdown says:

    see it’s not long, it’s not contemplative snorefest pitchfork wannabe shit like most music writers in this mag spit out; it’s genuine, thoughtful, and nicely packaged. seriously some of the art section’s seasoned hacks could learn many things from this kid.

  8. Elle says:

    This is the most uniformly positive feedback I’ve ever seen on any review, published in the student press or otherwise… Go Seb!

  9. ROBIN says:

    Thank you Seb.
    Brilliant, brilliant review. The kick in the ass I most regrettably needed to save up my coins and actually buy the album. (Poor form, I know. Can I still blame the recession?)
    Love

  10. smackdown says:

    seb is king

    all others fuck off

    cept elle who’s good too

  11. smackdown says:

    seb come back :(

  12. Kim Wheatley says:

    Not to worry my dear Capitaine de le Smack, Seb shall be returning next issue with another sumptuous offering of music criticism.

  13. smackdown says:

    he better or ill hunt u

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