Joanna Newsom - Have One On Me
In the grand scheme of things, releasing a triple album doesn’t bear any of the classical hallmarks of restraint, but whoever wrote that particular set of rules didn't have Joanna Newsom in mind. While her last full-length collection, 2006’s Ys, was an incredibly grandiose affair, its follow-up feels relatively stripped back and peels back the layers of pomp to reveal a new sense of intimacy.
Although a detailed analysis of her lyric sheet may still require a fairly hefty dictionary and an even heftier dose of patience, this collection of songs seems less layered in cryptic metaphors than older tracks such as 'Monkey & Bear'. One thing this new album does share with her previous opus though is the joy of discovering the transcendent little moments that set songs alight. Remember the way that shimmering harp hung perfectly over the sublime 'why the longface' segment of 'Sawdust & Diamonds'? There are plenty such moments here.
'Good Intentions Paving Company', one of the first tracks from this album to appear online, is also one of its most instant. Layers of denim-hued country-twang instrumentation build over an elastic piano line into an almighty clatter before giving way to the song’s quietly hopeful climax. The naked emotions of the vocals leave you reeling, and the song’s intricate textures and melodies are breathtaking. There’s barely room to take a gasp before the arrival of 'Baby Birch', Have One on Me’s second major highlight, a starkly beautiful melody recalling 'Amazing Grace' that subtly shifts into a delicate ballad touching on regret and missed opportunities.
In another progression that is sure to endear her to a wider audience, many of the idiosyncratic vocal mannerisms that proved divisive in previous offerings have more or less vanished, giving way to a much smoother, more delicate proposition. This restraint elevates the likes of 'Kingfisher', a swooning track complete with evocative strings, as the vocals complement the soothing instrumentation where once they could have proved a distraction. Its an instrument that hasn’t been completely tamed though, and on disc two 'Jackrabbits' falls victim to some unseemly vocal undulations. It's already a flimsy proposition in any case, the only point of the album to feel like a half-formed sketch, and wilts in the shadow of the marvellously rich chamber pop of 'In California'.
Standing out among the more muted collection of torch songs that dominate the second half of the record are the likes of 'Soft as Chalk', featuring a chirpy melody and as perfect an enunciation of darlin' as you're ever likely to find, and the album's tender finale 'Does Not Suffice', a heady mixture of optimism and heartbreak. These two emotions dominate an album that wears its heart proudly on its sleeve, a brave, proud and sumptuous testament to the talents of an artist at the height of her powers.