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Monday, March 29, 2010

Joanna Newsom

Have One on Me (Drag City)

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Though it’s already being lauded as her most accessible album, Have One on Me isn’t necessarily Joanna Newsom’s most listenable. A two-hour-long, triple-disc set is a lot to ask an audience to absorb in the age of download-the-songs-you-like-and-ignore-the-rest. Musically, finding a middle ground between her Appalachian folk-inspired, more vocally demanding debut, The Milk-Eyed Mender, and its follow-up, the epic Van Dyke Parks-arranged Ys, much of Newsom’s third (more-than) full-length will sound more palatable to new listeners.

But Newsom is an acquired taste. Those who enjoy that taste will indulge in this feast of delicately phrased lyrics, ever-shifting arrangements including strings, cornet, mandolin and banjo, and Newsom’s own harp playing, which is not only technically impressive, but also moving. Others will have their fill and leave the table unable to claim themselves as members of the Clean Plate Club.

And that’s just a shame, because nothing here could be considered filler. In other words, Newsom doesn’t stuff you with bread (to beat this metaphor to death). There’s a constant ebb and flow to the soothing lullabies and the more freak-folk moments, often within one song. Those who take the time to digest it will find it a rewarding experience.

Joanna Newsom headlines the Pabst Theater on Friday, April 2.