JOANNA NEWSOM – The Milk-Eyed Mender (2004)

Review by: Roland Bruynesteyn
Album assigned by: Viudas Tormo

This music at first sounds like a mix between nu-folk by Bonnie Prince Billy and ECM chamber pop. Joanna is a classically trained harpist and it shows in the unconventional choices she makes. She also plays the piano, but on the whole this sounds a little less technically advanced.

Although the instrumentation and the melodies are rather sparse (and very light on percussion), the album is all over the place stylistically, so the album is more varied than you would think. But she’s also a singer, and there I have a problem. She sounds like Kate Bush (high almost soprano voice) mixed with Joni Mitchell (jazzy attitude, somewhat snarling delivery) both channeling their inner child. Or think Ricky Lee Jones on hydrogen. While I generally admire goofiness if coupled with obvious talent, this CD can only be enjoyed in small quantities at a time by me.

Most are in singer songwriter mode, but a nice song like This side of the blue I could easily imagine being sung as a ballad by Jon Anderson. Three little babies is very painful to the ears and had me laughing at the fact that it’s actually been released. In a gospel setting it would be great for Aretha, in the actual folk setting it would fit Fairport Convention, in a country setting Johnny Cash could make it sound great, but this version is horrendous.

All songs would improve immensely, to the point that the cd can actually be enjoyed, if they had been sung by a more natural, professional and pleasant voice like Norah Jones or Carly Simon. Of course, this would be less original, more middle of the road, and it could even show some other inadequacies in the music that now are drowned in the effect the voice has on the listener, but for me Joanna’s voice on this album (I have another album by her, Have one on me, where it seemed less prominent) seriously hurts its entertainment value.
Sometimes having an original voice is not just ‘not enough’, it’s too much. Being talented and daring must count for something however, so I would urge you to listen for yourself if perhaps YOU can overcome MY problems with this release…
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Author: tomymostalas

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