Joanna Newsom, the love-it-or-leave-it harpist, released her third full-length album last week relatively unannounced. Though most of the songs on this two-hour-long three-disc record stretch well beyond the two-and-half-minute mark of most pop songs, the material here is more accessible than any of Newsom's previous work.
While she still sings of pastoral scenes in such songs as "'81" in her squeak of a voice, her vocals are much tamer than usual (think Joni Mitchell, Dolly Parton, and Stevie Nicks, instead of screeching kindergartener). It also helps that most of the lyrics on Have One On Me
revolve around love and its frequent follower, heartbreak, which has been a staple of singer-songwriters for years.
In the first track, "Easy", all begins well in a story of a relationship. Yet the pair are "tested and pained by what's beyond our bed." Soon she struggles to understand the love that he begins to refuse. "All the livelong day, if I have my way, I will love you," she sings. Sadly, she knows "One can't carry the weight, or change the fate, of Two".
Newsom sticks to playing her harp throughout the majority of this album. While some might get stuck in the mire of slow-moving lullabies like "No Provenance" she keeps the album's momentum afloat when she swaps out string plucking for piano key pounding.
For example, the upbeat country-jazz tune "Good Intentions Paving Company" showcases a completely new sound for Newsom and is one of the best on the album. Lyrically, Newsom is at one of her strongest moments here, too (the title is a clever play on the well-known phrase that the road to hell is paved with good intentions). Channeling Dolly Parton in both singing and songwriting, Newsom tells of a metaphorical journey of a passenger and her love interest barreling down a dangerous road together. Her gift for writing lyrics shows in such lines as, "I regret, I regret, how I said to you, 'Honey, just open your heart' when I've got trouble even opening a honey jar", and when she segues from the phrase "Auld Lang Syne" to "Signed, sealed, delivered, I sang."
As with all Joanna Newsom records, this one only gets better the more time you spend with it. While she sounds quite a bit like Joni Mitchell this time around, especially in songs like "In California," her music is still not pop music and isn't easily consumed. Her music, voice and lyrics are nuanced and require multiple listens. However, it never becomes a chore.-Lyndsey Matthews
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MP3:"Good Intentions Paving Company" (Have One On Me)
Joanna Newsom on Myspace