The road to hell might be paved with good intentions, but Joanna Newsom’s new album takes you somewhere else entirely
I have just got hold of the new Joanna Newsom album, Have One On Me. Four years in the making, it spans two hours, four minutes, three discs and 18 tracks. A doubling of the number of songs in her oeuvre in a single stroke. It is, I confess, as overwhelming as a Tolstoy novel, and as yet a little early to say if it’s as satisfying. The song, In California, with its key and tempo changes, sweeping strings and suitably cuckoo intonations, suggests that it might be: it is as nimble and beguiling as birdsong.
Critically, the album is being treated, as ever, with a gentle patronisation, even by its admirers. The Washington Post describes the the song Good Intentions Paving Company as sounding “like what would happen if the renaissance fair had a disco”; and notes that her voice has grown more “natural and assured” and, somewhat erroneously, that, “she no longer sounds like a 16th-century kewpie doll”.
Kitty Empire in the Observer commends “the awesome arc performed by [the song] Baby Birch packs in innovations: handclaps, furtive blares of electric guitar and a strange eastern origami coda that neatly folds a bit of Japan into a bit of Bulgaria. It is nine-and-a-half minutes long and yet you curse the fade-out”.