The Goodness of Joanna Newsom

A fellow blogging buddy of mine last night wrote that Joanna Newsom was just not her thing. Couldn’t quite get past the voice. To be fair, I understand completely. When I first heard her voice, I was blown away by the raw, unrefined sound to it, and it really caught me off-guard. Her music, with its amazing depth and lushness, was what really kept me coming back for more.

As time wore on and after repeated re-listens of “Milk-Eyed Mother” and “Ys,” I realized just how much I really enjoy the unparalleled uniqueness of her vocals. Some have called her child-like. I disagree. I said it before and I’ll say it again: Alison Shaw has the most child-like voice I’ve ever heard. That’s including Mari Smith, who is 12, so … you know … take that for what it’s worth. As you all should know by now, I *adore* Ali’s voice, and you’ll never read otherwise from me. Which brings me back to Joanna’s uniqueness on her first 2 CDs.

It’s definitely an acquired taste. Her voice can be, dare I say it, un-nerving. One of my other first reactions was the strinking similarity to her style and Bob Dylan’s. 20 years ago, If I were a record producer and I was the one in the studio for his first recording and all I heard were his vocals, I probably would have tossed him out. Yah, that may be met with some harsh criticism and backlash, which is what I would expect from a well-educated musical community. 20 years later, I cantruly appreciate his music for the overall package and not just his nasaly, semi-non-singing approach to vocals. Joanna Newsom is the same way. She is a package deal, and to accept her as an artist (which, just my opinion here, she is very much moreso than 90% of musicians out there today) is to accept the fact that her first two albums were vocally raw and unpolished. THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH THAT.

Now … having said all that, I would *highly* encourage anyone who has any mis-givings about Ms. Newsom’s vocal abilities to please pick up her 3-CD release, Have One on Me. Her vocals are drastically different, and truthfully, I was a tad disappointed when I first heard them. However, I now underestand that we’re just flat-out lucky to even have these new CDs (long story short, she developed vocal nodules and it literally left her voiceless for 2 months, after which she was never able to sing the same way). Her voice now seems much more … normal? I guess …? For wont of a better term, I guess that will have to do. Sadly, in my opinion, it takes just a bit of mystique away that she had in the first 2 CDs.

As my good buddy Kip pointed out the other day, we do not tell someone that their musical opinions are wrong. It’s just not cool. We may disagree and we may present our opinions … heck, some of us may have incredibly strong opinions (read: I do indeed have incredibly strong opinions …) but I will never tell someone that their opinion is wrong because it’s not and never will be. It will always be their opinion, to which he or she is perfectly entitled, just like I’m entitled to my opinions. If they’re similar and we see eye to eye, great! If we have a differing view point, so what? There’s too much music to agree upon to get caught up on telling someone that their opinion is wrong. That’s just ludicrous.

So to you, my SF blogging buddy who may or may not even read this, I respect your opinion to the hilt. I hope you know that by now. You’ve shown me some amazing, fantastic music, and for that, I’m eternally grateful. I just happen to disagree with you on this one small point. Joanna Newsom’s vocals, in my opinion, made her first 2 CDs that much more exhilerating.


New Music Friday

Another Friday lunch hour, another trip to Graywhale.

By the way, Team USA just scored again on Team Finland. 4-0. Gold medal bound, baby!!

It pays to open your mouth at the register. I just happened to ask if the guy had heard of Joanna Newsom. Not only had he heard of them, but the guy next to me at the other register had heard of her and had seen her on some obscure rack upstairs.

I am addicted to peanut butter M&Ms. </tangent>

ANYway, I went upstairs and grabbed it, bringing the grand total to 11 CDs for the day. Here’s the list.

  • Inkwell – These Stars Are Monsters
  • The Happies – If We Were Really Here
  • Interpol – Our Love To Admire
  • Josephine Foster – Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing
  • Foma – Inverness
  • Insta – Checklist for Love
  • Great Northern – Sleepy Eepee
  • God Help the Girl
  • The Fever – In the City of Sleep
  • The Appleseed Cast – Peregrine
  • Joanna Newsom – The Milk-Eyed Mender

I have some other Appleseed Cast and Interpol, the rest were all a spin of the Russian Roulette barrel. I’ve yet to be let down entirely, so I’m not concerned.

I still haven’t ripped the CDs I bought last week. There’s a reason though, weak as it is. So, I hook our computer to our HD TV so we can wach HD content. We have a blu ray drive in the machine, and I have a smattering of HD documentaries that are pretty cool. Since the tower is hooked to the TV and I sit on the couch and do everything from about 10 feet away, I don’t like getting up and down every 3-4 minutes to switch out the CDs. So they’ve sat in their corner for the last week.

Today, I’m buying a blu-ray player. Panasonic DMP-BD80. Some guy near my house is selling one for $100. Nice. So that means I can move my tower back to the computer desk and start ripping. Woo hoo.

Joanna Newsom – Have One one Me

Joanna Newsom has a voice that is so defiantly unrefined as to merit wonder how she ever garnered a recording contract … until you hear croons, where she seems to channel all the great big band singers mixed (Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Etta James, et al) with an air of Janis Joplin at the age of 10 on helium. Not to mention her composition/instrument playing skills are phenomenal. Her lyrics are more like free-verse poetry. She’s supposedly classified as “freak-folk,” which … umm … sure. Personally, I think she defies classification. She’s not pop, rock, trance, house, or electronic. No world music influence here. She has taken a bunch of instruments and mixed them in such a unique fashion that to classify her music as one genre or another is borderline insulting. 

Thus it is that I offer you this review of Have One on Me–her latest release. The most immediately notable difference is her vocals. Call me crazy, but I’m convinced she got herself some training. I say that with all the love in the world. Her voice on Ys andThe Milk-Eyed Mender is fantastically unique, singing with such abandon and without guile. It’s obvious that she’s either consciously reigned in the raw-ness and opted for a more melodic voice on this offering.

Then there’s the matter of “this offering,” which is actually a 3-CD set, all of which are good enough to stand on their own. Disc 1 stand-out tracks are the soulful southern gospel-sounding “Good Intentions Paving Company,” the opening track “Easy,” and “Baby Birch”–the last track on the CD. It becomes more layered as the song progresses. Not sure what the song is about, but it’s haunting.

“Do you remember staring up at the stars,
so far away in their bulletproof cars?
We heard the rushing, slow intake of the dark, dark water,
and the engine breaks …”

I’m just blown away at how different her voice is on these new CDs, yet it still sounds like Joanna. I’m really impressed. The music is great as always. I’m a huge fan of the fact that she plays the harp. Very excellent.  

Stand-out tracks on disc 2: The whole CD.

Standout tracks on disc 3: Again, the whole CD.

You really need this CD. Period. Get it.

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