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Album Review
Have One On Me

Have One On Me
by Joanna Newsom

Drag City

Review Date
29th March 2010
Reviewed by
Paul Gallagher

Joanna Newsom has been called a lot of things since The Milk-Eyed Mender (2004) made such a divisive impact on the music world with her child-like singing and old-language lyricism. Freak-folk, acid-folk, new-folk, folk-pop, new-Appalachian, on and on, again and again, she's been given titles that have created a certain level of division between what she believes she is and what the world thinks of her. But let me just say it - in comparison to her previous efforts, Have One On Me is essentially the one that might be most described as a pop record. Surely, Newsom is still a chanteuse at her harp but Have One On Me works well to move away from the perceptions about her that she has shown frustration about in interviews throughout her career. She draws together many influences and styles - traditional folk and a smattering of gospel amongst them - but things aren't as steeped with the rigidity that was seen within her previous full length Ys (2006).


The 18 tracks spread over a triple-disk album continue to show Newsom's devoted attitude to her craft - hers is an attentive, artisan approach. There is plenty of charm continued within them from the solo harp and vocal tracks Esme and Jackrabbits, to almost big band ensembles of In California and the title track Have One On Me. There is tenderness in the lyrics, a range of emotions. In Soft As Chalk, 'we'd talk as soft as chalk till morning came, as pale as a pearl' she sings, a yearning come-hither to the mercies of love, only for it all to be dashed in the closer Does Not Suffice, 'everywhere I tried to love you, is yours again and only yours.' There are quiet moments, sentimental moments in this album - as shown by On A Good Day and the piano-laden Occident. But there are also social, bawdy moments if Good Intentions Paving Company is to be believed.


Newsom is by no means seated alone at her harp here. Playing host to a whole slew of able musicians, with everything from the viola, violin, cello, mandolin and organ. Enlisting the help of Portland-based composer Ryan Francesconi to assist with the arrangements and guitar-backing, fellow composer Eric Oberthaler appears throughout the album, long-time Devendra Banhart collaborator Noah Georgeson is called on to record and mix, and the eccentric Moore Brothers appear to offer their voices on You and Me, Bess after a string of opening performances on one of Newsom's European tours. Sonic Youth and Gastr del Sol stalwart Jim O'Rourke returns after mixing Ys (2006) to again use his skills.


While you might think splitting more than two hours of music over three separate discs is a cumbersome format - it does leave the listener open to opportunities of discovery after repeated listens. You're able to digest each of the discs as a separate entity unto itself, almost as if it were an EP. It may be that each of the disc represents a differing chapter of the album as a whole, but there is also continuity here - the cover, each disc case and the songsheet booklet are graced by string of photographs from the previously Vice Magazine and The Journal-featured Annabel Mehran.


Joanna Newsom holds a necessary place in American music - without wanting to place upon the harpie's role, she is the youthful face of a traditional movement that is increasingly more aged. With the likes of Bill Callahan, Will Oldham and Edith Frost gaining in years, Newsom draws on centuries of old music that far exceeds her own life. And while she does it, she brings musicians along with her in a collaborative, propagatory style. The entire approach of Have One On Me is fresh and fashionable - from packaging, imagery, lyricism and musical nous. Joanna Newsom continues to bridge the gap between the historiography of music and contemporary relevance.


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