Joanna Newsom embarks on UK tour
Artist tours sprawling achievement of Have One On Me
Joanna Newsom’s career continues to flourish with the exploration of her craft, writes Ryan Drever
When she was first brought to the attention of UK audiences by that most reliable eccentric, Jools Holland, Joanna Newsom seemed like just another obligatory obscure artist plucked from the ceiling-high stacks of specialist music magazines no doubt cluttering the Later … research office. As she began to play though, dwarfed by the resplendent harp she brandished, decked in bizarre headgear and possessing a voice that flitted between cartoon eight-year-old and vintage folk singer, her performance was a sight – and sound – to behold. Unsurprisingly there were some who found it all a little too unusual and perhaps as good a reason as any to change the channel. But ultimately, as time moved on, it became apparent they were the ones missing a trick.
For a start, it doesn’t take a genius to recognise the technical ability at Newsom’s disposal, being both an accomplished harpist and pianist. And though that didn’t do anything to prevent something of a shaky start as far as sales are concerned, her career has since flourished, reading more like a series of genuine musical explorations than a simple discography.
After an initial run of homespun CD-Rs garnered her some worthy attention, Newsom – cutting her teeth alongside fellow Californians and wide-eyed folk visionaries such as Devendra Banhart and Vetiver – released her debut album The Milk-Eyed Mender in 2004. In between a range of unique and often jarring vocal deliveries, the more restrained pieces of work such as ‘Bridges and Balloons’, ‘Crab, Cockle, Cowrie’ and ‘This Side of the Blue’, the latter also used surprisingly tastefully as part of an ad campaign for Orange, showed a real depth and beauty to her songwriting, extending far beyond the initial novelty of her quirky, pixie-esque aesthetic.
The 2006 follow-up Ys was to prove an even bolder step in an otherworldly direction, seeing her enlist the help of legendary composer Van Dyke Parks to colour in her sound with his own spiralling orchestration. The resulting five-track opus was ambitious, to say the least, with each song reaching far beyond conventional run times and accompanied by what can only be described as a tome of lyrics. Paired with incredibly intricate and regal artwork and packaging, the album possessed an almost medieval feel to it and offered a rare and enveloping musical experience; a point that was expressed ten-fold on the accompanying tour in which Newsom hit the road with full orchestra in tow.
In the few years since, her ethereal beauty has been put to more straightforward use, modelling for the likes of Armani and appearing in the music video for MGMT’s anthem ‘Kids’. However, any worries of a permanent change of vocation were delightfully shattered earlier this year with the release of Newsom’s third full-length (and we mean that) Have One On Me. Though undoubtedly different from Ys’ conceptual splendour, the album, spanning three vinyl-length discs, is no less a sprawling achievement than its predecessor and marks the continuing evolution of both Newsom’s voice and her craft.
Returning to Glasgow’s Royal Concert Hall this month to showcase tracks from all three albums, Ms Newsom is sure to be just as enchanting as ever – a treat for both avid followers and the uninitiated alike.
Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow, Mon 20 Sep.