# A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

Joanna Newsom - Milk-eyed Mender

  by Malcolm Carter

published: 26 / 3 / 2004

Joanna Newsom - Milk-eyed Mender
Label: Drag City
Format: CD


Very alternative, but also impressive folk rock on debut album from singer-songwriter and harpist, Joanna Newsom

If you’re looking for something new and different then giving this debut album by Nevada City-raised but now San Francisco resident Joanna Newsom a listen. It might just give you the same shock it gave me. Newsom has released two EPs prior to this album which being self released unfortunately passed me by. I’d heard that Newsom’s main instrument was the harp and sure enough it is, but (and not being an expert on the harp I don’t know if this is possible) Newsom plays it differently to how I expected. It is used as the principal instrument not part of the background (with the exception of a couple of songs like ‘Peach, Plum, Pear’ where Newsom shows her skills on the harpsichord). Maybe it’s the type of harp Newsom uses. Maybe it’s her own distinctive style of playing. It doesn’t matter. What does matter is that any preconceived ideas of how the harp sounds are now redundant. I was expecting a folk based album with the harp as a secondary instrument and the usual female singer / songwriter vocals singing songs about the usual topics of lost love and regret, especially after a look at the excellent digi-pak CD sleeve which is a print of an embroidery by Emily Prince. I couldn’t have been more wrong on all points. Having covered my surprise at the prominence and sound of the harp I must also make mention of Newsom’s vocals. That they are an acquired taste would be an understatement. But don’t let that put you off. In these days when it is getting increasingly difficult to tell the difference between the majority of female singers we should be grateful that Newsom has her own unique singing style. It’s practically impossible to give any kind of indication as to how Newsom sounds vocally. Newsom is that unique. It’s that simple. It’s takes a while but eventually one can hear elements in her vocals of Amy Allison, Björk and Cyndi Lauper. And that’s one collection of female singers I never thought would be grouped together. But at the end of the day Newsom’s vocals, much like the songs she writes, are all her own and are without comparison in the female singer / songwriter genre. Her songs, all originals, except the traditional ‘Three Little Babes’, have titles like ‘Sprout And The Bean’ ‘Peach, Plum, Pear’ and ‘Clam, Crab, Cockle, Cowrie', which convey the idiosyncrasy of Newsom’s music. Despite the quirkiness of the songs the roots of Newsom’s music can be traced back to age old Appalachian folk music and even bluegrass. It also strangely recalls the folk music of the 60's while sounding a million light years away from it. A new take on old music? In that context it works, and works well. Newsom is gifted when it comes to composing melodies. Even if her vocals take some time to get used to her melodies are striking. Of course, the more the album is played the more one gets accustomed to those otherworldly sounds and they start to sound like the norm. Her lyrics are pretty unique as well. A sample lyric from ‘Sadie’ goes like this “ And the mealy worms in the brine will burn in a salty pyre among the fauns and ferns” and that is one of the more unchallenging songs on the album! There is much to enjoy in this album. After the first few minutes I didn’t think that it would be a record that I would return to much. It certainly raised a few eyebrows when played to others which I liked and this made me stick with it which I’m glad I did. To begin with the more undemanding songs shone brightest; ‘This Side Of Blue’ with its pretty melody and with less of the quirkiness in her vocals Newsom shows that she can write and sing songs which could be given radio play without any problems. ‘En Gallop’ is another song which is not too abstract and if I do have a complaint about this album it would be that maybe the running order could have been different so the listener was not too taken aback by the first couple of tracks as they appear on the album. I think that we are going to hear a lot more of Joanna Newsom. She is also a member of the band the Pleased whom she plays keyboards for and has played in England in the past with them. Newsom has also played shows with both Cat Power and Bonnie Prince Billy so word is getting round about her undisputed talents. It’s well worth giving this album a listen if you’re on the search for something different in the female singer / songwriter genre.

Track Listing:-
1 Bridges & Balloons
2 Sprout And The Bean
3 The Book Of Right-On
4 Sadie
5 Inflammatory Writ
6 This Side Of The Blue
7 "En Gallop"
8 Cassiopeia
9 Peach, Plum, Pear
10 Swansea
11 Three Little Babes
12 Clam, Crab, Cockle, Cowrie

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