CD Review, Joanna Newsom, “Have One On Me”

Long a fan of Joanna Newsom, there’s no way that I can possibly provide a neutral, unbiased review here. Sorry.

She could record herself making hand-to-armpit fart noises for three hours and I would be blown away. She could record the silence of a quiet room, and I would lap it up like a hungry kitten. I might even purr and meow, right there in the review.

Alas, she has done no such thing. Instead, Newsom has taken her time — four years since the previous release — and carefully constructed a massive, yet subtle, triple album titled Have One On Me.

There are a few surprises on the record, but it makes sense as a follow up to the 2006 full-length release, Ys. I am intimately acquainted with Newsom’s material. I’ve seen her perform live, an occasion that I remember with crystal clarity. It was at the Karate Club in Osaka, Japan. She played all of my favourites, and introduced the audience to one of her new tracks at the time, “Only Skin” (from Ys). I can recall thinking, verbatim, “This song makes me think that Newsom has matured as a songwriter. It sounds refined. Every note and every word seems to have been considered with harrowing sensitivity.”

Upon first listening to Have One On Me, while I can’t recall my exact thoughts, I experienced a similar reaction. It’s different though; this album doesn’t feel specifically more “mature” than the previous album. In fact, that came to be one of the things that bothered me about Ys. It was too mature; it lacked the innocent poetic naïveté of her previous work. Have One On Me regains a lot of what seemed missing from Ys, while elaborating fundamentally on Newsom’s sound. Though sparingly used, there are drums on this album, and there are songs that feel more like a band is actually playing with her, as opposed to being dubbed in behind her after the fact. But then, there’s a little less harp.

Newsom released an EP after Ys called Joanna Newsom & The Ys Street Band E.P.. It had one new song and two folksy reinterpretations of songs on Ys. This new album could accurately be described as a fair compromise between the sound of the E.P. and the sound of Ys.

5 stars out of 5