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Joanna Newsom


Country of origin:

U.S.

Type of music generally:

Evocative/eclectic

Status:

Most recent release, Divers (2015)

See also:

She appears not to currently have an official website (02/10)

Drag City's Joanna Newsom page

Joanna Newsom's Wikipedia entry

Milky Moon, a fan site

Comparisons:

Early Kate Bush, but like all Ectophile Goddesses, she is completely unique.

Voice somewhat similar to Stina Nordenstam

Covers/own material:

Own

General comments:

She plays a Celtic harp and sings. Her voice has a very unusual, child-like quality which takes some getting used to, but it is truly endearing once you do. The harp does not sound like you'd expect, either, I actually thought she was playing some kind of guitar at first. She has been playing for over 15 years now, and she truly melds with her instrument. (whig@debian.org)

woj really really likes her a lot, as do many people whose musical tastes I respect. However, I just can't get past her childlike voice. She sounds like she's six years old, and I just want to stab myself in the head whenever I hear her sing.
     This distresses me, because I really *want* to like her as much as everyone else, but I just can't. (I've never been able to deal with those really fragile childlike voices anyway—Stina, for example, is another I can't handle.)
     Your mileage may vary, of course. If you like Stina and that ilk, you'll probably like Joanna Newsom. Plus she plays the harp, and you have to give her points for that. (meth@smoe.org)

yeah well I have to admit I just don't get the appeal...I think she's aiming for 'delightfully whimsical' but for me it hits somewhere closer to 'plastic foam dragged across a glass pane'... you know, that sound that makes you want to run out of the room screaming. (afries@zip.com.au)

I would have said the same thing as meth and afries, and did—at least until a friend bought me Ys as a present. It only took a few listens until I fell in love with it. She's so creative and has such a way with melodies that it really grew on me and has utterly charmed me. (Neile)

Glad I'm not the only late convert to Joanna Newsom. At first I couldn't stand her voice. The new album gives it great context to work in. (stjarnell@yahoo.com)

i know nearly everyone dislikes joanna newsom's voice on her proper debut the milk-eyed mender (and the two self-released cd-rs which preceeded it, walnut whales and yarn & glue) but i would just like to state, for the record, that at least one person LOVES the way she sang and the way she played on that record. seriously. that album resonated with me the same way veda hille's spine and tori amos' little earthquakes did: feeling like i already knew the songs like old friends the first time i heard them and never tiring of listening to it.
     ys is a departure, for sure, and i enjoy it lots. (woj@smoe.org)

Recommended first album:

Ys

Recordings:


The Milk-Eyed Mender

Release info:

2002—Walnut Whales

Availability:

See Walnut Whales site

Ecto priority:

Essential. It may not be the easiest listen or immediately obvious how powerful and important this is, but if she sounded like something you'd expect then she wouldn't be as interesting anyhow. (whig@debian.org)

Group members:

Joanna Newsom—vocals, vocals, harp, piano, Wurlitzer piano, harpsichord

Guest artists:

Noah Georgeson—guitar, background vocals

Produced by:

Noah Georgeson

Comments:

I'm listening to it now as I'm writing, and my general impressions are still in the process of formation. Her voice is somewhat country-ish, but absolutely unique. Her songwriting is personal and intelligent, with a stripped down and raw performance quality that reminds me somewhat of Tori, but without treading the same ground. Unclassifiable, really. I'm listening to "Peach, Plum, Pear" now—and I'm really compelled to say that she's probably a goddess. (whig@debian.org)

Ys

Release info:

2006—Drag City—DC303CD

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended for fans of the unusual

Group members:

Joanna Newsom—vocals, Lyon & Healy style 11 pedal harp

Guest artists:

Lee Sklar—electric bass
Grant Geissman—electric guitar
Don Heffington—percussion
Matt Cartsonis—banjo, mandolin
Van Dyke Parks—accordion
Terry Schonig—marimba, cymbalum
Bill Callahan—vocal harmonies on 1 track
Emily Newsom—vocals harmonies on 1 track
Orchestra:
Van Dyke Parks—orchestral arrangements, conductor
John Rosenberg—contractor
Peter Kent—first violin
Francine Walsh, Shari Zippert, Sharon Jackson, Julie Rogers, Gina Kronstadt, John Wittenberg, Cameron Patrick, Larry Greenfield, Adriana Zoppo, Vladimir Polimatidi, Edmund Stein—violins
David Stenske, Briana Bandy, Caroline Buckman, Jessica Van Velzen, Marda Todd, Karen Elaine, Mariam Mayer—violas
Erika Duke-Kirkpatrick, Giovna Clayton—cellos
David Stone, Bart Samolis, Peter Doubrovsky—basses
Peter Nevin, Jeff Driskill—clarinets
Susan Greenberg, Patricia Cloud—flutes
Phillip Feather—oboe
John Mitchell—bassoon
Robert O'Donnell—trumpet
Steven Durnin—French horn

Produced by:

Joanna Newsom and Van Dyke Parks

Comments:

Marvelous record and one where she's fully grown into her artistic vision. I recommend it highly. (stjarnell@yahoo.com)

Bit of a mystery, here, the amount of money that's been poured into the sophomore album by an artist with what can only be described as cult appeal (not one but two legendary producers working on it, and one of the most expensive packaging jobs I've ever seen), and the critics, with one voice, citing it as one of the all time greats. What's going on here? Did someone have a bet on? Despite my conspiracy theory, however, I quite like this album. It's weird and wonderful and sounds like she's making it up as she's going along (and, yes, her voice is an acquired taste), but it sure is unique. (adamk@zoom.co.uk)

I bought Joanna Newsom's new cd Ys a few nights ago. And, you know? I think I'm finally starting to get her. Her first album wasn't nearly as inviting as this one. On The Milk-Eyed Mender her voice was harsh, the music was far too repetitive and sparse, and her odd (fake?), Appalachian-Mountain-girl accent made me cringe.
     So what a shock Ys is. The songs are these lengthy, lush journeys. She's not afraid to construct complex orchestrations that take 10, 12, even 17 minutes to complete. Her voice is still striking, but it seems to go down more smoothly. I think she has more control over her sound. And composer Van Dyke Parks is perhaps key to the album's success. He adds fantastic new sounds that accompany Joanna's beautiful harp-playing exquisitely.
     I'm glad to join the believers who think Joanna Newsom is brilliant. Her first album got my attention, even though I didn't care for it. But Ys definitely shows the focus and maturity of an emerging, and perhaps important, artist. Check it out! (lasherboy@gmail.com)

I had never heard of Newsom before I heard this particular recording, at a friend's house on Thanksgiving. BUT I am a long time fan of Van Dyke Parks' work (the producer/arranger of Ys), and he seems to have captured something thoroughly unique in her songs, and my guess is he encouraged the vocal affectations as a way of suiting the production. When Parks conducts, he conducts everyone, including the stars. He is always a collaborator more than simply a producer. And her voice is perfect in this context, I think. (cliff)

i know nearly everyone dislikes joanna newsom's voice on her proper debut the milk-eyed mender (and the two self-released cd-rs which preceded it, walnut whales and yarn & glue) but i would just like to state, for the record, that at least one person LOVES the way she sang and the way she played on that record. seriously. that album resonated with me the same way veda hille's spine and tori amos' little earthquakes did: feeling like i already knew the songs like old friends the first time i heard them and never tiring of listening to it.
     ys is a departure, for sure, and i enjoy it lots, but i have had a harder time really getting inside that record. not so much because of the stylistic changes from her earlier work but primarily because the place i listen to music mostly now is work and long songs like those on this album are regularly interrupted by phone calls and e-mail and meetings. (woj@smoe.org)


Joanna Newsom & The Ys Street Band E.P.

Release info:

2007—Drag City—DC336CD

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended for fans of the unusual

Group members:

Joanna Newsom—vocals, harp

Guest artists:

Ryan Francesconi—tambura, guitar
Dan Cantrell—accordion, musical saw
Neal Morgan—drums, vocal
Kevin Barker—banjo, guitar

Comments:

A three-song e.p. recorded quickly with her touring band at the end of a tour. Highly recommended for anyone who liked Ys as it's very much of that sound and style. Lovely! "Cosima" also appears in a different version on Ys, and "Clam, Crab, Cockle, Cowrie" is on The Milk-Eyed Mender. (Neile)

Have One on Me

Release info:

2010—Drag City—DC390CD

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Group members:

Joanna Newsom—harps, piano, vocals, backing vocals

Guest artists:

Neal Morgan—drum set, timpani, percussion, backing vocals
Phaedon Sinis—flute, tarhu, kemençe
Eric Oberthaler—trumpet, cornet
Andrew Strain—trombone
Katie Kresek—violin
Philip Payton—violin
Yeolim Nam—violin
Djeina Haruta—viola
Sascha Groschang—cello
Andrew Roitstein—double bass
Ryan Francesconi—Bulgarian tambura, kaval, acoustic & electric guitar, electric bass, banjo, mandolin, soprano recorder
Judith Linsenberg—alto, tenor, & bass recorder
Laura Reynolds—oboe
Shawn Jones—bassoon
Alex Camphouse—horn
Dan Cantrell—piano, Hammond organ, harpsichord, pump organ, accordion
Dan Koretzky—timpani
Patrick Cress—bass clarinet
Lily Storm—backing vocals (disc 1, track 2)
Thom Moore—backing vocals (disc 2, track 2)
Greg Moore—backing vocals (disc 2, track 2)
Kane Mathis—kora (disc 2, track 5)
Shira Kammen—vielle, rebec (disc 3, track 5)
Lila Sklar—violin (disc 3, track 6)

Produced by:

Joanna Newsom

Comments:

Complicated tapestries of songs; I could listen to this forever and get more and more out of it every time. Full of delights on every listen. (Neile)

With 18 huge tracks spread over 3 cds, Have One on Me is ambitious, daunting, heavy, difficult—but also incredibly rewarding for those who take their time with it. You have to work at this album. Don't expect to breeze through all 18 tracks in a single sitting. Try digesting one or two songs at a time, studying her phrasing, unique timing, beautiful melodies, and poetic lyrics. Those who stick with it will be rewarded with an emotional journey, charting a relationship's beginning, middle and bittersweet end. (PaulJ)

I've been surprised, bemused and delighted by the new Joanna Newsom, which I can only liken to wandering the halls of a particularly idiosyncratic art gallery, in which it takes one a while to realise that the strangely beguiling music that follows you around from room to room is the exhibit itself, and that each time you return to a room, it somehow seems different as you discover something new this time around.
     A pleasure to listen to again and again. (adamk@zoom.co.uk)

One of my favourite albums of the year. (Marion)


Further info:

Joanna Newsom has recorded collaborations with several artists, including the song "Right On" with The Roots and S.T.S. on The Roots' album How I Got Over (2010).

According to the NY Public Library catalog, a DVD of her February 1, 2008, performance as part of the Brooklyn Philharmonic's BP presents series can be viewed with written permission from the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

There is an album of covers of her work called Versions of Joanna (see http://www.versionsofjoanna.com) a benefit for Oxfam America's Pakistan Floods Relief Fund (2010). Other covers of her work include Sholi's version of "Sprout and the Bean" on the "Hejrat" single (2008) and Bombay Bicycle Club's version of "Swansea" on their album Flaws (2010).


Thanks to Mike Goldman and JoAnn Whetsell for work on this entry.

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Entry last updated 2015-10-21 22:08:45.
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