Photo Gallery: Joanna Newsom, Live From Sixth & I Historic Synagogue
The Book of Right-On
Soft as Chalk
Good Intentions Paving Company
Have One on Me
You and Me, Bess
Monkey & Bear
When Joanna Newsom first emerged on the musical landscape in 2004 with her debut album, The Milk-Eyed Mender, a lot of people thought she was a novelty act. She sang with a whimsical, childlike voice, and the songs had precious titles such as "Peach, Plum, Pear" and "Sprout and the Bean." And, of course, Newsom plucked a classical harp instead of a guitar. But this year, the singer returned with a stunningly ambitious, three-disc collection called Have One on Me. Newsom's voice has matured; the orchestrations are richer and the themes darker. It's a breathtaking musical adventure you can hear performed in a full concert, recorded live from the Sixth and I Synagogue in Washington, D.C.
Have One on Me is more than two hours long, and is expected to fill much of her concert from Washington, D.C. Newsom still plays the harp and piano, and her voice is still distinctly her own. But the California native layers the tracks with horns, electric guitar and various African and Balkan instruments, while her voice is often sly and beguiling, sounding more like Kate Bush than Tiny Tim.
But even with its oft-lavish sound, Have One on Me still feels spare and spacious. On a number of tracks, Newsom is accompanied by just her harp, with stark imagery in lyrics such as, "In the winter, 'round the ruined mill / The creek is lying, flat and still / It is water / though it's frozen" (from "On a Good Day") or, "I took a blind shot across the creek / at the black bear / when he roused me in the night / and left me cowering with my light" (from "Soft As Chalk"). It's a transfixing world of sound that might be challenging for some listeners, but Have One on Me is a journey worth taking.