The newest sound from Newsom

What kinds of musical acts release three-CD albums? Usually it is some obscure prog rock/metal band with a giant concept album about the bloody adventures of Norse gods. How about a folk group led by a woman who plays the harp?

Although not as fun as tales about Odin’s hammer, Joanna Newsom gathers the energy and time to write a triple album, although it really isn’t a full three–CD album. See, with “Have One on Me,” Joanna decided that since not many people listen to vinyl anymore, she wanted to create the illusion of vinyl by having each CD only contain 30 to 40 minutes of music. Combined, the entire album is only two hours (still long), but it feels like a waste.

What isn’t a waste, though, is the music itself, unless folk isn’t your “thing.”

Joanna Newsom’s new album is yet another brilliant entry into the folk genre.
Listening to Joanna Newsom is like entering that cool hipster coffee shop that is adjacent to a renaissance fair. That is, Newsom encompasses the traditions of folk while somehow having the quality of the multitude of singer/songwriters who play in coffee shops. Newsom has extraordinary musical talent, and her music is intricately woven into a beautiful tapestry of folk.

Anyone familiar with Newsom’s previous work will immediately notice two things. First, her voice has matured greatly since 2006’s “Ys.” Before, Newsom was known for her child-like twang singing style (somewhat like Kimya Dawson). In “Have One on Me,” however, her voice is fuller and more stylized; now it seems like she is more like a jazz singer.

Some might be sad that this change may deprive Newsom’s music of that somewhat innocent quality displayed in songs like “Sprout and the Bean.”

Don’t fret, music fans! With the change in Newsom’s voice comes a fuller and more complex instrumentation (the second thing old fans will notice).

For the most part, not much has changed, but songs like “Good Intentions Paving Co.” and “Occident” are not really folk songs as much as they are blues songs.

It appears that Newsom has loosened her firm grip on folk and decided to give some other genres a try. In fact, not only are there some full out bluesy–jazz songs like “Good Intentions Paving Co.,” but there seems to be a touch of blues and jazz throughout the entire album.

While this is new territory for Newsom, it does not feel like an introduction into a different genre. If you have never listened to anything but “Have One On Me” you would have probably never guessed that Newsom has never previously done jazz or blues. Her impressive musicality knows no bounds.

A possible reason for her change is the ever increasing trend of “accessibility.” Ever since Animal Collective’s “Merriweather Post Pavillion” we have seen beloved indie artists like Dirty Projectors, Beach House and Grizzly Bear reach out to new areas to get a new and bigger audience.

I don’t mean to say that any of these artists have “sold out.” As an audience, we must accept that artists change and need and/or want to try different things, which means they may try different genres. While there are examples of bands selling out when they change genres (Weezer), many artists just like doing different stuff.

Joanna Newsom is one of the artists that just wants to try new stuff, and she does it very well. If you’re a current fan of Newsom, (or folk in general) definitely get “Have One on Me.” You will probably love it. If you aren’t a fan of folk, then it may not be your cup of tea, but I would at least give it taste.