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Thursday, December 26, 2013

Joanna Newsom -- Have One on Me

 photo 220px-Joanna_Newsom_-_Have_One_On_Me_zps04fac5ec.jpg

It is hard enough to sustain a listener's attention across an entire album, especially if every song has a similar sound. A double album is even tougher, but the rare triple album is nearly impossible to pull off well. For some reason, after releasing one of the best albums of this now not quite as new century, Joanna Newsom decided it was time to try her hand at the triple album. Have One on Me is at once an admirable attempt and a maddening one. These 18 songs, despite more diverse instrumentation, are by far the least dynamic Newsom has ever recorded. They are slow, quiet, and somehow both meticulous and unlabored. Most of the lyrics read like a section from Finnegan's Wake, and just reading through them all in the provided booklet takes quite an investment. This lyrical opacity lends the more sparse songs (about half are only Newsom's voice accompanied by harp or piano) an even more aloof and distant quality, which is ironic, considering the warmth the album title and artwork invoke.
I've had three years to make up my mind about Have One On Me, but my initial response has not changed. Listening to Have One on Me is like taking a two-hour nature-cruise down a labyrinthian river, banked with few landmarks, where all you see is a couple of birds. There might be more beyond the brush, but whatever is there, it isn't clear. Those landmarks I mentioned are a handful of great songs, "Good Intentions Paving Company" chief among them.

There are 18 songs here, though, and these great ones should have been culled into a concise, at least translucent statement. They don't mean much stuffed into this opaque mass. The apocalyptic noises at the end of album closer, "Does Not Suffice," seem to signify the death of something hugely important, but when the CD rolls back to track one, and the songs play through again, nothing has been illuminated.

Yet, this is still the work of a hugely talented artist--perhaps that of a genius. I think this is her worst work, but I also think it is far better than many other artists' attempts. Better to be lost in a brilliant mind, than to be familiar with a dullard's? I am optimistic that whatever Ms. Newsom (soon to be Mrs.) follows Have One on Me with will be well worth the time.

2010 Drag City

Disc One
1. Easy 6:04
2. Have One On Me 11:02
3. '81 3:51
4. Good Intentions Paving Company 7:02
5. No Provenance 6:25
6. Baby Birch 9:30

Disc 2
1. On a Good Day 1:48
2. You and Me, Bess 7:12
3. In California 8:41
4. Jackrabbits 4:23
5. Go Long 8:02
6. Occident 5:37

Disc 3
1. Soft as Chalk 6:29
2. Esme 7:56
3. Autumn 8:01
4. Ribbon Bows 6:10
5. Kingfisher 9:11
6. Does Not Suffice 6:44

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