Joanna New­som


Sun.Star Cebu Weekend - - Audiosyncracy -

IN our age of acronyms, emoti­cons and dis­ap­pear­ing mes­sages, “Divers,” Joanna New­som’s first al­bum since 2010, is an an­cient codex pro­vid­ing an op­por­tu­nity for sub­mer­sion deep into its folds or to just float safely on its sur­face. Both can be equally re­ward­ing ex­pe­ri­ences.

Oc­ca­sion­ally rein­ing back her usual pref­er­ence for length — of a lyric, a song or a whole al­bum — “Divers” could oc­cupy just 52 min­utes of your time. But New­som builds songs like cathe­drals of sound, lay­ers of voices, in­stru­ments and words reach­ing you from ev­ery di­rec­tion. Take the ex­press tour or set­tle in the nave and stay for hours.

The record never loses its sonic clar­ity — Steve Al­bini and Noah Ge­orge­son take a bow— even as New­som’s crisp harp, re­gal pi­ano and of­ten multi-tracked voice is en­veloped by a well-cast col­lec­tion of bouzoukis, English horns, too many key­boards to name, the City of Prague Sym­phonic Orches­tra and even a Hohner Guitaret, a kalimba in a box.

New­som’s voice is a kalei­do­scope, ev­ery slight turn col­or­ing the songs in var­ied ex­plo­sions of emotion. Some­times it turns ex­ces­sive — in “The Things I Say” her vo­cal char­ac­ter mu­tates ev­ery few words — and there is lit­tle to dampen her sud­den highs and sharps, which are much more pro­nounced than on her pre­vi­ous al­bum, the three-disc “Have One On Me.” Fewer vo­cal ac­ro­bat­ics would not nec­es­sar­ily re­sult in less thrilling per­for­mances, just less dis­tract­ing ones.

Lyri­cally, there is plenty of room for dis­cov­er­ies and in­ter­pre­ta­tions with New­som’s unedited love of lan­guage en­com­pass­ing war, un­sta­ble lives and re­la­tion­ships, ref­er­ences to New York, both clear and ob­scure, and much more.

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