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Saturday, December 21, 2013

Joanna Newsom -- The Milk-Eyed Mender

 photo The_Milk-Eyed_Mender_cover_zps4be49109.jpg

Near the end of 2004, shortly before my first college graduation, I was making my nightly commute home from Baton Rouge. The radio station I DJ'ed for played Joanna Newsom's "Peach, Plum, Pear," and for some reason it made me think of my wife. The next night, we were in the DJ booth together, and I played the song for her on a break. Of course, she wasn't my wife then, and she had a boyfriend at the time, but that's the way I roll. Joanna Newsom's debut album, Milk-Eyed Mender also does whatever it wants, rules be damned.
First off, Joanna Newsom's singing voice sounds like this person. Secondly, her chief instrument is the harp, with the piano and harpsichord functioning as her secondary tools. A friend shows up to sing and play acoustic guitar on a couple of tracks. That's it. That's all you get.
For most of the album, the only sounds are Newsom's beautifully unique, at times abrasive, singing voice, and a harp. Somehow, the combination of these elements creates a strangely personal and comforting album. Newsom has great wit and humor as a lyricist. Wikipedia shows she was born only a month after me, and was 22 when this album was released, but she was a lot wiser at 22 then I was. You should never say the word "was" in a sentence four times.
Before this review, I hadn't listened to The Milk-Eyed Mender in a while, and I had mixed recollections of how I initially received it. After a rough day last week, a late night drive home to The Milk-Eyed Mentor was quite the calming experience. There are two or three jarring moments where Newsom pushes her voice a bit too far (the opening word of "Sadie," for instance), but overall, The Milk-Eyed Mender is a remarkably assured and enjoyable debut.

2004 Drag City
1. Bridges and Balloons 3:42
2. Sprout and the Bean 4:32
3. The Book of Right-On 4:29
4. Sadie 6:02
5. Inflammatory Writ 2:50
6. This Side of the Blue 5:21
7. 'En Gallop' 5:07
8. Cassiopeia 3:20
9. Peach, Plum, Pear 3:34
10. Swansea 5:05
11. Three Little Babes (traditional) 3:42
12. Clam, Crab, Cockle, Cowrie 4:21

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