Friday, December 31, 2010

HAVE ONE ON ME - Joanna Newsom (2010)

One of the most unique artists on the contemporary scene, but also one of the most divisive, folk-harpist Joanna Newsom provokes a strong reaction in most who hear her music.

For fans, her very long, very feminine, very organic songs...dominated by her agile harp playing, flowing, intimate lyrics, and (a cliche to call it this at this point, but still dead-on accurate) odd, elfin voice...offer a slice of heaven, a gentle, estrogen-laden oasis in a music world overrun by testosterone-fueled thunder.

For detractors...or anyone who requires a touch of adrenaline in what they listen to...a duller, more self-indulgent, more insufferable artist does not exist.  I'm only half-joking when I say there is level of hell reserved for deceased skateboard punks and death-metal-loving skinheads where Newsom's music is played non-stop.

Have One On Me, Newsom's latest offering, an epic, three-disc, eighteen-song, two-hour plus offering of extended personal, often inscrutible explorations, will only heighten this division, giving both camps an abundance of material upon which to stake their case.

I however, find myself oddly on the fence.  On the plus side, Have One On Me is gorgeous, disarmingly personal, full of subtle instrumental intricacies, and while her voice has always been an acquired taste, Newsom has never sung better. 

But Have One On Me is also one of the most static recordings in recent memory, constantly evolving, but almost never dynamic, content to just wade there in its shimmering pond of little beauties. Portions of it left me bored to the point of exasperation, and given its extreme run time, I sometimes felt I Know I'm Asking Too Much Of You, Dear Listener would have been just as legitimate a title.

I wouldn't harp quite so much if the static moments were the album's best, but they aren't.

Every truly great moment on this album comes in those rare instances when Newsom breaks from the statis...the vocal explosion that concludes title track Have One On Me, the menacing guitar stabs that end Baby Birch, and the joyous "Joni Mitchell-at-her-finest" jaunt that permeates every second of the album's one true masterpiece, the extraordinary Good Intentions Paving Company.

So a definitively neutral Solid Recommend from me on this expansive and original but at times flat offering. 

I feel her fans and critics are right in equal measure, and newcomers to Newsom, you'll only need to sample  a few tracks on the widget below to guage on which side of the fence you stand.

Status: Solid Recommend.

Cherry Pickers Best Bets: Have One On Me, Good Intentions Paving Company, Baby Birch, Go Long, Does Not Suffice.

Here's a fan video set to the album's classic track, Good Intentions Paving Company.

Component Breakdown:

Disc One:
1. Easy - 7
2. Have One On Me - 8
3. '81 - 7
4. Good Intentions Paving Company - 10
5. No Provenance - 6
6. Baby Birch - 9

Disc Two:
1. On A Good Day - 7
2. You & Me Bess - 7
3. In California - 8
4. Jackrabbits - 6
5. Go Long - 8
6. Occident - 6

Disc Three:
1. Soft As Chalk - 8
2. Esme - 7
3. Autumn - 5
4. Ribbon Bows - 6
5. Kingfisher - 4
6. Does Not Suffice - 8

Intangibles - Depends on which camp you are in, but for me average to slightly high.

What are your thoughts on Joanna Newsom's Have One On Me? Let readers know with a comment.

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