Have One on Me (Drag
City) Even though I’ve spent three weeks with Joanna Newsom’s threedisc, two-hour opus, I’ve come to the old critical cop-out, “I don’t understand everything here, so it must be brilliant.” What can I say? This is an album to chew slowly and savor, and I’ll still be breaking off nuggets in 2012. Here’s what I do know: there are none of the intentionally shrill moments that Newsom favored on her wonderful debut, The Milk-Eyed Mender, nor any of the overproduced orchestration of her challenging follow-up, Ys. This album finds her voice ringing beautifully clear and her arrangements tastefully stripped down. She has grown into the most worthy successor to Joni Mitchell yet, both in terms of her wistful upper register (more nasal than Mitchell’s) and her incessant experimentation with lyrics and melody. Maybe you’ll gravitate to peppy numbers like “Good Intentions Paving Company.” Maybe you’ll find yourself smitten by numbers that sound of the moment yet old as the hills, like “Jackrabbits.” Maybe you’ll work the album like a Rubik’s Cube, figuring out what it all means. And maybe you’ll let it come to you slowly, and reveal what it means to you. Regardless of how you choose to crack this nut, it’s clear that the more you invest in it, the more rewards you’ll reap.