#2. Joanna Newsom – Have One On Me
I realize that Joanna Newsom can be a somewhat polarizing figure. People either love her, or can’t stand her. I’ve gone through both, honestly. In the end, I’ve liked her first few records, but her sometimes-too-cutesy voice and sometimes-too-cutesy songs are just…too cute. I have grown to appreciate her wordplay, her sparkly harp, and her tense high voice. She is an acquired taste, that I did eventually acquire.
However, Have One On Me blew all that out of the water. All that cutesy stuff seems now like an entirely different artist, from long ago. This is a mammoth record, in size, scope, and skill. Sure, many of the songs are long, but with patience you start to notice that these are razor sharp. Every verse is important. Every harp strum, every waver in her voice, every orchestral flourish, every light drumbeat. There’s no ramble here, which is incredible because it’s 2 hours long, over 3 discs. Of course, all this technical goodness would be irrelevant if it weren’t a joy to listen to.
And it is. Newsom leads us into her magical world, with lullabies and fairy tales and stories and love and hope and loss and puns and who knows what else is in there? “Easy” starts things off, and it is a good example of her new laidback warmth. Like I said, in the past her voice could sound tense. Now, she calmly floats through the songs, dropping all tension. “Easy” has similarly warm keyboards, inviting, calling you in. By the end of this first song, you’ll want to pull the blanket over your head, and listen, with no distractions. Next Newsom drops a few harp songs to remind you: this is what I do better than anyone else in the world. The harp, as always, enhances her stories perfectly, adding just the right drama at just the right times. By the end of disc one, with the genius “Baby Birch,” you should be completely sucked in.
Disc two seems to be me to be the emotional heart of the record. “In California” and “Jackrabbits” are a powerful combo, full of nostalgia and longing and yellow hearts and dry rot and even a “poultice made of fig.” Who sings about poultices? Joanna Newsom does, and it’s awesome. Disc Three is delicate, as she continues, ending things with contemplatively. Could this have been 4 discs? 5? 23? The mastery makes it feel endless, even when you get to the end.
I mean, I won’t lie. This is a challenging record. It is hard to swallow whole, and even individual tracks are so rich and long, it’s impossible to gather all the subtleties. But at the same time, the songs are too fascinating and beautiful to just put on in the background. What would be the point in that? The first time I really connected to this album, I was listening on a sunny afternoon in the fall. I put it on, and basically lost all sense in time. I was reading the lyrics, listening, looked up, and thought, wait, why is the sun shining? What time is it? Where am I? Have One On Me is something to really experience–it can shake you, move you, make you daydream. It is one of the best musical experiences of 2010, if you let it be.
WordPress has a size limit on their mp3s, so even when I scaled the quality down, some of these songs were still too long to share. I really wanted to share “Baby Birch” so here’s a Youtube video of it: