Have One On Me
Joanna Newsom's new triple (!) disc has been shrouded in secrecy for the past two years, and now that it's finally out, well, it was worth the wait.
The northern California musician has been playing the same old harp since age 12, and sees herself as the musical offspring of home-state artists CSNY, Joni Mitchell, and the Byrds. But Have One On Me is a departure from her past work. Newsom's nasally voice, so off-putting to some listeners of her first albums, is now mostly angelic—due ironically to a vocal injury last year. There's also more percussion and a deeper cache of instrumental layers here. She wrote her own harp and vocal arrangements, while Ryan Francesconi, who plays guitar, long-necked lute, banjo, mandolin, and soprano recorder on the album, arranged and engineered the recordings.
Each of these 18 songs—only three of them clock in at under five minutes; six are eight-plus—is a leg of her musical trip through the Golden State. The nice parts of it, that is: black bears and beetles and all that. When you come and see me in California / You cross the border of my heart, she croons.
This album can function as background music if you want it to, but what's most intrusive—and interesting—is the multiplicity of texture. From lutes and harps to horns and electric guitars, it unfurls surprises on the first few listens: Check out "Soft As Chalk," "Easy," and the title track. Newsom describes Have One On Me as "more direct and more open" than past records. Which might be true, but her seraphic vibrato is still there if you listen for it.