Newsom's three-part, jazzy album recalls the roaring '20s

BY ARIELLE SPECINER
For the Daily
Published February 21, 2010

You’ll want to buy out a vintage boutique and raid a liquor store after hearing Joanna Newsom’s new three-disc album Have One On Me. The alcohol-infused, highly anticipated record goes nicely with a flapper dress, a feather in the hair and lounging on a velvet couch with a bottle of scotch.

Joanna Newsom


Have One On Me
Drag City

It has been four years since Newsom’s last album, 2006’s Ys, and Have One assures listeners that it was worth the wait. Comprised of more than two hours of gorgeous vocals, chilling harp riffs and playful piano parts — all played by the California native — the sultry and sweet songstress takes us to a twisted time of cabaret with bluesy vocals, jazz and liquor.

Have One On Me opens with “Easy,” a beautiful and bluesy six-minute song that sets the album’s tone with jazz flute, horns, haunting harps and oriental staccato vocals.

The standout on the record is the Dusty Springfield-inspired “Good Intentions Paving Company.” Newsom takes the listener on a dragged-out night drive with a frustrated lover as she croons: “And the tilt of this strange nation / And the will to remain for the duration / Waving the flag, feeling it drag.” The song ends with a minute’s worth of eloquently beautiful, locomotive harmonies and a horn solo, truly emphasizing the old-time cabaret sound.

For all the jazzy accompaniment, the strength of the album lies with Newsom’s vocals. Although Newsom is an incredibly skilled harpist and pianist, her voice shines above the instrumentals. On tracks like “Baby Birch” and “Esme,” Newsom displays upper-ranged melodic shrills through her velvety tone. Her voice sounds trained and well rehearsed, but she retains her quirky, piercing pitch that makes her so distinguishable.

Newsom’s buttery, almost operatic voice is paired with a bizarre but beautiful instrument, the 21-stringed kora in tracks like “Autumn,” “On A Good Day” and “Go Long” for a distinctly oriental sound. The two totally different sounds of flowy vocals and eastern-sounding hums melt together beautifully, which is what makes this album unique.

Though normally our attention spans do not suffice for a two-hour set of songs, the album is sensibly split into three discs, which allows the listeners to appreciate Newsom’s ingenuity. The three-disc setup works perfectly so listeners can really recognize Newsom’s genius by listening to each separately, thus making the album fully digestible.

Nobody in the music world is quite like Joanna Newsom: Perhaps only she is able to write such a poetic album with dream-like harp chords and whimsical harmonies. Have One On Me shows that Newsom has clearly graduated from the peculiar and perky tendencies of 2004’s The Milk-Eyed Mender and transformed into a folksy, feathery-voiced songstress.

Although lengthy, it's truly a pleasure to devote time to the graceful lyrics and poignant sounds of the album. Her craft and originality is so impressive that she should know: The next one is on me, Joanna.