Album Review: Joanna Newsom – Have One On Me (Drag City, 2010)

Aurora Horwood 12 March 2010


Three discs, two hours. Joanna Newsom’s Have One on Me is certainly a leviathan of sorts, and from the opening bars of ‘Easy’ it becomes clear this album is something special, her ethereal vocals floating over a haunting violin accompaniment.

Recovering from vocal-chord nodes has caused Newsom’s singing to evolve, and what results is a more controlled soprano that she masters as well as she does her harp.  In this album Newsom’s sound is deeper and fuller, and whilst there are still orchestral flourishes, more often she alternates between harp and piano with arrangements of banjo, violin, guitar and drums courtesy of the Ys Street Band.

What is unchanged is Newsom as a master-storyteller, incorporating familiar motifs of nature imagery into ‘81′ as she sings “I found a little plot of land in the Garden of Eden”. There is certainly much poetry to what is a mostly melancholic album suffused with themes of love and loss. ‘Baby Birch’ is particularly affecting in its lyrics, “This is the song for Baby Birch, Oh I will never know you”, which fades out with an oriental-inspired coda.

Meanwhile, with a myriad of musical influences, the upbeat ‘Good Intentions Paving Company’ sources bluegrass banjo and gospel while Newsom croons “I regret how I said to you, ‘Honey, just open your heart,’ when I’ve got trouble even opening a honey jar”. Otherworldly voice and kooky idiosyncrasies aside, Newsom has woven a together a magical collection of songs that stress her uniquely individual qualities, are immediately compelling, and put simply, utterly bewitching.

Aurora Horwood