Have One On Me

February 28, 2010 § 1 Comment

Comments on Joanna Newsom’s Have One On Me

(Read on WNUR 89.3 Fm Evanston/Chicago on February 28th, 2010)

How do we dig into Joanna Newsom’s triple album Have One On Me? Even before we press play on track one, the album’s surface characteristics remind one more of a Mahler symphony than a pop album: Have One On Me’s 18 songs equate to over two hours of music with an average track length of over 6 minutes.  If we stretch our imaginations, the sparse contrapuntal string quartet and voice texture at the very beginning of the album even summon comparisons to the Andante of Mahler’s 9th before a piano drops in to provide the song backbone.

Although the Mahler analogy loses steam quickly, there is still one more important element it unlocks in Newsom’s music: the central idea that Have One On Me is about time. Musically, lyrically and metaphorically the album is about the past and the transpiring. There is a reason she stretched two albums worth of music into three albums.  She wants us to take as much time as we need to listen. In this way the album is rewarding for the ways it pushes and pulls at our musical imaginations. In the same way we daydream through symphonies until a passage catches our attention, Have One On Me jaunts along and then pops with recognizable pop idioms.

At least his is how I immerse myself in Joanna Newsom’s music. To be honest, I have always been curious of the way Newsom’s many devoted fans find steady footing within her most recent intellectual and esoteric pop songs on Ys and now Have One On Me.  There are no ‘Peach, Plum, Pears’ here. If you’re neither an expert on written verse, interested in extended, experimental song structures, nor a particularly meditative listener what brings you to Joanna Newsom?

Well, my theory (which extends to listening and taste in a larger sense) is that Newsom so masterfully interweaves rhythm and melody adopted from ingrained soul, pop, and blues hooks into her long, dense forms that we always have something to hold on to – and, with repeated listens, something to anticipate. Like all music, it plays with the exemplars informed by our sonic memories. The brilliant ‘Good Intentions Paving Company’ at times inflects Janis Joplin in the way Newsom confidently slurs into words over raw blues piano orchestration. Throughout the album, the early-Joni Mitchell comparison is clear by the way her syncopated harp-accompaniment interacts with her time-matured voice.

While this review is more an exploration of how to listen to Newsom’s new album than a review of the artistic material, I urge the curious listener to be patient with Have One On Me. Although it is one of the most intimidating releases so far in 2010, it is also one of the most rewarding.


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