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Xzyliac avatar 3:46 PM on 02.26.2010  (server time)
I Review Them In Stereo: Have One On Me by Joanna Newsom

I Review Them In Stereo is a feature where I review albums, typically new releases, sometimes oldies, not many compilations, across just about any genre you can name. In a perfect world I can gather a team large enough to make it an entirely seperate community feature with it's own blog. If you've got music know how, decent writing skills, and think you can regularly contribute PM me.

Album: Have One On Me
Artist: Joanna Newsom
Label: Drag City
Released: February 23, 2010
Genre: Folk
*Sub-genres Avant-garde, Baroque pop
Sounds like: early Regina Spektor, acoustic Sarah Brightman, Joan Baez

If you like folk, and female falsetto doesn't phase you, buy Joanna Newsom's Have One On Me right now. Don't continue reading; just do it. You will not be disappointed. However if you're into folk chances are you already know Ms. Newsom and I'm preaching to the choir.

When I picked up this ambitious album I had no idea what to expect. I knew it was a folk album and that was about it. I had never heard Ms. Newsom before and I can not express my shock when I first popped the CD in my car. For anyone who doesn't know Ms. Newsom the first thing that will probably catch you is her voice which has been described as "untrained," and "child-like." It is a very high falsetto that at first sounds operatic like that of Sarah Brightman (of Repo! The Genetic Opera fame) but suddenly, however gently, drops into an unprofessional yell that reminded me of Regina Spektor; specifically her performance on her third official album Soviet Kitsch. Her voice is probably what will put some off and put some on. For myself it took some getting used to. It's not that it's a bad voice it's just that it's a very...different voice. Especially in comparison to the typical female voices of the 21st century it takes a special ear to really appreciate.

Her voice, whatever your opinion, does not detract from the instrumental compisition which brings me to the hardest part of my review. Ms. Newsom uses very unconventional methods in her music. She often strays away from mainstream methods in her music which can almost be described as completely foreign in some respects. I don't want to paint the picture that the album Have One On Me is experimental howver. Certainly not. It's par for the course in folk or baroque but that still doesn't make it "normal." Have One On Me draws heavy inspiration from traditional Celtic, orchestral, and Appalachian sounds while using polyrhythms (multiple rhythyms layered on top of each other) to create some serious "What the fuck was that?" moments. One fine example of this can be heard on the track Esme where Newsom composes a beautiful array of strings including harp, banjo, and cello alongside percussions to create a song that dips into a wide range of unique flavors and textures.

Of course we can't review a folk album without looking extensively at the lyrical content. The lyrics, while not disappointing at all, are perhaps the weakest point of an otherwise perfect and daring album. Songs like '81, a song I interpreted to be a play on the subject of man destroying nature, do accomplish what they achieve but they seem to do only that. I felt like the lyrics never went as far as Newsom could've taken it. They lacked imagery, personality, and with Newsom's voice and instrumental compisition I really felt like she could've taken truly brilliant lyrics to a new plane. In my opinion she lacks the poetic finese of her folk sister, Regina Spektor (an inevitable comparison). It's not all negative however. Jackrabbits and Soft As Chalk are two songs whose lyrical content is breathtaking but on a 2 hour album that just doesn't mean much.

Oh yeah you read right. 2 hours. Continuing the pattern of breaking from the common mold Ms. Newsom packs her latest release with 124 minutes of pure hipster goodness. The risk pays off however because if you find yourself enjoying one track you'll want to squeeze every bit of goodness out of the other 17. Newsom never lets you down through the entire album keeping things fresh and interesting for the folk fan.

Overall, I would declare the album an ambitious triumph. It might not be for everyone but it surely doesn't let down it's audience. Newsom's voice is hypnotic and her compisition is a perfect example of how to keep the acoustic sound interesting and fresh without being ridiculous or pretentious. I would highly recommend Joanna Newsom's Have One On Me to anyone with a taste for beautiful acoustic folk or anyone with an open mind looking for something new.

Personal favorite tracks: Soft As Chalk, Have One On Me, '81

Summary for lazy people: Great if you're into folk. Maybe not for others.

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