Music » CD Reviews

Joanna Newsom

Have One on Me (Drag City)

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The title isn't a joke. We know that much seconds into the cocktail-hour chamber music of "Easy." With indie weirdos left and right now charming fans and the charts by simulating normality — from Animal Collective's paeans to fatherhood to Yeasayer's self-help advice — folk anomaly Joanna Newsom spends three discs that could've fit on two proving how straight she is. Even her sandy voice has smoothed out, as proven by the cooing hook that comes nine minutes into the title tune. But her lyrics are another story: "How long's it gonna take/Let me love you," she sways, dead serious. Gone are the "impossible birds ... in a steady illiterate movement homewards" from her debut. The sharpest lyrical nugget here is the portmanteau "auld lang signed, sealed, delivered, I'm yours."

Even as a harp-playing, scratchy-voiced elf prone to suites about meteorites, Newsom was never as weird as Björk or equally orchestra-obsessed contemporaries the Knife. Here, she again has her moments, usually on disc one: "81" has a beauteously circular folk melody, and "Good Intentions Paving Company" is a hippie-soul banger with tambourine and prominent use of "baby" and "darlin'." And the wordy tom-and-handclap pile "Baby Birch" ascends to a sexy climax — saying a lot for a song that brings in a Chinese string finale. But the other two discs suck. "You and Me, Bess" flirts with Norah Jones bourgeois-lounge, and "In California" sounds like Newsom is auditioning for the lead in Evita. Disc three briefly roars back with "Soft as Chalk," a gutsy thrust into blues-soul impressive enough to make you forget her shrieking beginnings. Unfortunately, it's followed by the Kate Bush-style "Esme" and the dirge "Autumn." Have One on Me manages a somewhat gross miracle: making the excessive sound tasteful. Taste isn't everything. — Dan Weiss

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