Have One on Me

Joanna Newsom

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Have One on Me Review

by Heather Phares

In case there was any doubt that Joanna Newsom was busy making music -- along with modeling and starring in MGMT videos -- in the four years between her brilliant second album Ys and its follow-up, Have One on Me’s three-disc, two-hour expanse is proof positive. The album’s massive size suggests that Newsom is bent on outdoing herself with each release, but the music is simpler than Ys’ symphonic majesty. Instead, she uses this oversize canvas to travel from Appalachian folk to big city pop, with stops at country, soul, and gospel along the way. It’s a dense journey, not just as a whole, but from song to song. Most of the album’s range is in the title track: Over 11 minutes, “Have One on Me” begins with jazzy harp stylings and some of Newsom’s most polished vocals, returns to Milk-Eyed Mender’s rural whimsy, passes through a marching band and lands in a British folk reverie. Similarly striking moments appear at the beginning and end of this triptych, but the first disc presents Newsom’s biggest departures. Have One on Me’s first third incorporates rock and pop, giving it a Laurel Canyon flair that underscores the ‘70s vibe of the whole endeavor. The lovely “Easy” plays like a Ys track rewritten for a rock opera; “Good Intentions Paving Company” flirts with winsome country-rock; “’81” is the closest the album comes to having a pop single; and the limpid, almost painfully quiet “Baby Birch” reaffirms that Newsom doesn’t have to be complex to be moving. The album’s third disc dives into her dramatic side, especially on “Kingfisher,” a chamber pop fantasia that plays like a condensed version of Ys. Have One on Me’s middle stretch unfurls songs that expand on Milk Eyed Mender’s serenity, including the dazzlingly beautiful “Go Long,” which ranks among Newsom’s finest songs, and the pretty but meandering “You and Me, Bess.” Therein lies the problem with Have One on Me: Newsom gives her listeners so much music that not all of it is equally memorable. The album’s cross between Milk-Eyed Mender and Ys isn’t always greater than the sum of its parts -- songs that sound like they come from a less-complex Ys or a less-innocent Milk-Eyed Mender are sometimes simply less. While Have One on Me might be more listenable if it was one or even two discs, it’s hard to say that it would be better. Its flow from disc to disc disproves thoughts that Newsom recorded three albums’ worth of material, couldn’t decide what to keep, and just released them all. At its best, these songs have the feel of an intimate live performance; at their worst, they’re lovely, but exhausting. Have One on Me is quite a technical achievement, but since Newsom has proven she can do just about anything, next time she shouldn’t try to do everything.

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