Joanna Newsom

Today’s guest post is from Tommie. We weren’t going to let Tommie do a post originally, we thought it wouldn’t be appropiate, but then I ran into him. We were in the pub and he gave me that radiant smile of his. I tried to resist but I couldn’t help it. Like the countless women he’s dazzled before with his combination of beauty and youthful energy, I lost control of myself, sucked into that beautiful smile, forgetting about my previous vows and attachments to my significant others. Next thing I knew I’d agreed to give him a guest post. I think I got off lightly. I tried guys, I really tried….

In an acid-enthused analogy the indy folkster Devendra Banhart describes Joanna Newsom as ‘the roots growing upwards’ (he describes himself as a snail) and I think this is probably the closest you’ll get to summing her up in four words. Her music, which mostly revolves around her exquisite harp playing and her beautifully idiosyncratic voice, takes influence from many folk traditions from all over the world. It is a danger to associate her with the indy folk scene which she often is because it brings up associations mobile phone commercials which is sadly what the music is becoming known as. Like Bossanova becoming synonymous with elevator music.

(As I am writing this I have just found out that one of her songs was used in an advert!)

Ok well…. I’ll just scrap the section I wrote about why you’re unlikely to hear her on an advert.

Right, despite having been played on an advert there is so much richness to her voice and her music that it would be a shame to write her off. I’m going to play you a couple of songs from her different albums showing the depth of her work. First of all here’s a song from her early self released EP Walnut Whales.

This is a very early song of hers and you can hear how her voice is very young and naive. Though it is lovely to hear such an early and modest recording of her songs I don’t think that at this point her voice and music had quite reached the level of her later songs.

The next song was originally from another self released EP but later featured on her debut album The Milk-Eyed Mender released in 2004. I think this song captures her voice really jumping from ‘childlike’ to… something else altogether… it still has that naivety to it but it has more texture and detail. I think this was the first song I heard and at first I loved it because it was strange and then I loved it because it was beautiful.

Her next album Y’s (pronounced EES) is the first album I bought and has since become my favourite album of hers. Y’s, it turns out, was a mythical city off the coast of Brittany which got washed into the sea. I suppose ‘mythical’ is probably a good way to describe the album. With all the songs clocking in at over 7 minutes (the longest one  being 16:53) we see her song writing taking a giant leap from the simpler folk songs to the epic tales of these songs. She even had the mythical ‘producer’ Steve Albini recorded her voice and harp. Steve Albini has recorded just about everyone in American underground rock scene… Fugazi, Nirvana, PJ Harvey, Pixies, Will Oldman to name just the few I recognise (someone should do a Steve Albini post…)! He is famous for his unusual approach to recording and his hatred of the title ‘producer’. It takes several listenings to realise just how cleverly the vocals have been recorded. The album also features an orchestra arranged by Van Dyke Parks.

Although this is such a massive album in terms of production, arrangement and length it still manages to retain the honesty and distinctive nature of her songs.

Having made such an amazing album with such length and depth I must say I was quite surprised to hear about her new release earlier this year. Have One On Me is a 3 (!) CD long album (two disk vinyl)… how do you possibly start with such an album? I must admit I’ve only given the first CD a really good listen and listened a couple of time two disk 2 and as for disk 3… it is still untouched is its lovely case. As for the music… If Y’s was mythical and medieval… in her latest album she has time travelled to the mid to late 60’s and sounds remarkably similar to Joni Mitchell (which is not a bad thing). Production wise it’s a wonderful album with some great songs but it is really hard to get into. Here’s the title track for you…

Another 10 minuter.

Anyway that is my brief introduction to Joanna Newsom. She will be headlining GreenMan festival this year if you’re interested. I’d like to take the chance to make a quick plug for one of my spotify playlists. As you all know, I don’t have facebook, so I’m almost untraceable on the internet. This is probably the only time you’ll get a chance to check this out so do!

2 thoughts on “Joanna Newsom

  1. sweet review, i’ll make sure i listen to more of her stuff! her way of singing made me think of one of the sisters in cocorosie.

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