Joanna Newsom Keeps Getting Better


On Monday Joanna Newsom graced the fair capital with a concert at the Sixth and I Historic Synagogue. It was one of the best concerts I’ve ever been to.

First of all, I should say that I’ve neglected my duties to Ms. Newsom by not having listened to her new album, Have One on Me, before attending. In my defense, I’ve been waiting for a solid three-hour chunk of time during which I could give the music all of the attention I know it deserves. Suffice to say…not much luck. I’d heard a couple of songs, mostly through NPR, but am only treating myself to the entirety of the album now.

So with that confession out of the way, I next want to compliment the venue. The synagogue, on top of being lovely and intimate, had a way of filling up with the sound of the band without losing any of the delicate orchestration. I will definitely be looking into more concerts here if for nothing else than the space. Alright. Onward.

Ms. Newsom’s expansion from The Milk-Eyed Mender to Ys was evident in its increased orchestration and song development. The aspect that has struck me most about her new material is how much more she plays with melodies, themes, and accentuating her lovely harp or piano with an array of supporting instruments. Similar to Ys, I think I’ll need to sit down with a lyrics sheet for a while before I begin to appreciate more fully this sprawling two hour piece. I’m a sucker for a well-crafted, intricately layered, constantly developing offering (blame it on the symphony orchestra experience), and Ms. Newsom has succeeded in a big way. I don’t quite know if I’d call it a concept album, but I suppose any good album will have some sort of unifying feeling behind it.

I suppose as much credit should go to the members of her traveling band (especially arranger Ryan Francesconi), which gave the feeling of a chamber group. They also help to guide the music into the territory of jazz and blues, two genres flirted with throughout the album. Ms. Newsom’s voice, which has mellowed slightly, does very well with this growth.

She played mostly off of her new album, as to be expected, so the only song I knew from those was “In California”, which I listened to after hearing the closing track “Does Not Suffice” on NPR, hearing that it pairs nicely thematically and lyrically with the former. Many of the songs on the album play with themes, both musical and lyrical, that come up again and again. This is a good thing.

From Ys, she played “Emily”, which is my favorite and really just a masterful song. From The Milk-Eyed Mender came “The Book of Right-On” and “Inflammatory Writ”, the last of which especially sounds incredible in its full-orchestrated version. Hearing the other songs for the first time made me incredibly eager to experience the album

The entire concert was mesmerizing. I was hanging on her every word and pluck. Do yourself a favor and snag her when she passes by a town near you.

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