The last thing the internet needs is anyone else chiming in on Joanna Newsom’s ridiculously ambitious new triple album Have One On Me. But screw it. This is a collection of music that will be scrutinized, pulled apart, examined, and fawned over for most of the next 9 months until it ultimately ends up near the top of just about every year-end list that matters, so why shouldn't I throw in my 2 cents? After sifting through Have One On Me for about two weeks now, I can safely say that it deserves the accolades. I’m aware that that’s a pretty meaningless statement, but I was never able to say the same for Ys (though I have always loved The Milk-Eyed Mender). I always found Ys much more interesting from afar than captivating when actually playing out of my speakers. Have One On Me manages to accomplish both - its songs are artistically stunning and just endlessly inviting.
If you're one of the few still uninitiated, Have One On Me must surely seem like a daunting challenge. The best place to get your feet wet is, in my opinion, the gorgeous “Baby Birch”. I thought it from the first time I heard it (and apparently so did Rawkblog’s David Greenwald in his CMG review, which, besides all the Ryan Adams comparisons, is right on in most ways), but you kind of expect her to veer into “Amazing Grace” over the song’s opening 4 minutes. It’s that beautiful, and has the same sort of delicate, near-religious presence before it evolves into something else entirely (with electric guitars!). Joni Mitchell’s name has also been brought up in a few places as a touchstone, and I’m sure that’s true, though in all honesty I’m not a fan and can’t really speak to that. What I hear on rootsier songs like “Good Intentions Paving Company”, “Soft As Chalk”, “On A Good Day”, and especially “You & Me, Bess”, is a very strong connection to The Band and their integration of traditional folk and blues music. Obviously Newsom’s voice has nothing to do with Danko, Manuel, or Helm, but some of those melodies would sound fantastic from the Big Pink basement. Any of those songs would also be excellent entry points as well.
Though there are plenty of subtly complex arrangements here, it’s the simpler songs (“Jackrabbits”, “Ribbon Bows”, “81”, “Go Long”, etc.) that are often the most impressive. Newsom allows the piano to override her patented harp as lead instrument on a few songs, all of which are terrific and offer a pleasant respite. And as an album closer, “Does Not Suffice” achieves the impossible in that it equals The Milk-Eyed Mender’s perfect ending, “Clam, Crab, Cockle, Cowrie”. Though far from an album made for everyone, if you allow yourself into the world this album creates, you’ll likely find that it’s a place you won’t want to leave for a long, long time.
(Buy Have One On Me here)