Have One on Me (Drag City)
Who is Joanna Newsom to make a two-hour-plus triple LP, as digital distribution continues to call into question the future of anything longer than a single track? It seemed a bold move even to those enchanted by 2006’s Ys, which expanded the squeaky Renaissance folk of her debut with lush arrangements and felt overstuffed even at less than an hour. Still, by the third track of Have One on Me, Newsom has worked most of Ys’ baroque density out of her system and clears her musical throat with the petite “81” (one of only four tracks clocking in at under six minutes) and the single “Good Intentions Paving Company,” the liveliest song in her catalog and alone on Have One as a teasing glimpse of where she may be going next.
What’s important, though, is where she is on Have One on Me. The album finally asserts itself with the first disc’s breathtaking slow-burn finale “Baby Birch,” and maintains for at least the next hour an impossible consistency. Newsom holds tight to the compositional freedom of lengthier tracks but reasserts her gift for simple melodies; though subtle, occasionally exotic arrangements litter the three discs, the majority of their running time finds her alone at her harp or piano, unfolding something beautiful in slow motion. (Newsom’s voice, a sticking point for many, continues to mature along with her craft.) The deceptive lyrical and structural scope of the songs may even illustrate why Have One on Me would suffer pared down to a single, flawless disc: It’s an album in macro, an unimpeachably whole work even if it is best digested in pieces. By the heartbreaking crescendo of closer “Does Not Suffice,” Joanna Newsom’s audacity seems almost modest.