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Have One On Me
Joanna Newsom Have One On Me
Released 23 February 2010
Producer Joanna Newsom
Label Drag City
Length 124:08

Indie folk, avant-garde, baroque pop

There is very little that causes such violent debate amongst lovers of contemporary music as the idiosyncrasies of Joanna Newsom. The mercurial chanteuse has her dedicated followers who adore the lyricism of her debut The Milk-Eyed Mender and the ambitious second album Ys while detractors find her to be grating like a precocious child having a hissing fit. Her new album confirms her worth and finds her in a more welcoming mood than previous efforts.

On first encounter Have One On Me stands daunting at a two hour triple set. It is suffice to say don’t try and devour it in one sitting, dip in and the rewards will come. Some rewards they are too. The full band sound (including Indian instruments Tambura and Kaval, drums and electric guitar) replaces the orchestral swell of Ys to beautiful effect. The music is more in partnership with the voice rather than trying to overpower it like on the earlier record. Ryan Francesconi’s arrangements dabble with Country on 'Baby Birch', Boogie Woogie on 'Good Intentions Paving Company', Celtic Folk, Blues and Jazz as well as maintain the template of Americana. This is no giant step towards commercial airplay of course. She’s still doing it her own way but there is a higher emphasis on melody without most of the histrionics that may have alienated some listeners in the past.

The songs are sprinkled with surprisingly confessional lyrics in addition to her trademark cryptic delivery. Comparisons with Joni Mitchell and Kate Bush are lazy to give but her vocal styling (her voice is maturing without losing its quirks) and wordplay does resemble said luminaries on 'In California' and 'Soft as Chalk'. Straightforward declarations of passion and the strangeness of love, loss and regret give the artist a warmth and human frailty that may have been lacking before. It’s almost like she feels more comfortable in her own skin on this record and there is a hint that enigmatic poetry may not be the default position to express her in times to come. However for the moment the mystic is never too far away. Despite what I have said about the directness of the album it’s this romantic and surreal lyricism that ultimately makes her great. In one of the most spine-tingling tracks 'Esme' she sings "the phantom of love moves amongst us at will". That one line could sum up the joy, melancholy and strange beauty of the album as a whole.

Overall this is the best record of her flourishing career. What you get is an album that combs the best parts of the ambition, quirkiness and beauty of the previous work and weaves them into a grand tapestry of sweet melody, classical beauty and timeless song writing.

- Tim Gannon