Folkster Pours Unpretentious Soup for Soul

Joanna Newsom

Have One On Me

Drag city

Joanna Newsom is not the easiest. Even her biggest fans compare her childish voice to the likes of Lisa Simpson, and her critics usually dismiss her with allusions to hippies, Bjork on helium and Shakespeare festivals. Add elaborate metaphors and SAT vocabulary, and it’s easy to cast her aside as pretentious quirk.

But despite her chronic whimsy, Newsom’s noise is actually quite soothing. The 28-year-old singer/songwriter’s Have One On Me may be dense and complicated, but its greatest moments succeed in delivering nice, nostalgic folk.

A followup to 2006’s acclaimed Ys, Me is sprawling in lavish, never-ending orchestrations. Newsom tones down the excess and churns out what, on her terms, might be considered pop. Even album highlight “Good Intentions Paving Company” tells a simple tale of budding love with surprising bursts of banjo and guitar.

That’s not to say Newsom has completely abandoned self-indulgence: Me spans two hours and three discs.

She does show new control of her unpredictable voice in opener “Easy.” What was once shrill innocence has evolved to a mature sense of soul. Rustic lyrics are rife with the pastoral images associated with Appalachia folk, yet Newsom’s pulsating piano rhythms almost approach psychedelic gospel; the result is music that is both meandering and romantic.

But while Newsom’s melancholic stories are mesmerizing, once they’re repeated 10 times over the course of an hour, they get downright frustrating. After a nearly perfect first disc, the other two blend into a perpetual loop of harp jangles and weepy vocals.

Essentially, Me is too much of a good thing. During its best moments, Newsom’s brand of campfire folk is enough to run your toes. But in the end, the album’s extensive tracklist leaves even the most attentive hipsters bored stiff.

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