She may look like a Gelfling straight out of “The Dark Crystal,” but listening to Joanna Newsom is like having a private conversation. If one of her songs were in a movie soundtrack it would be one of those Sofia Coppola films like, “The Virgin Suicides,” and the scene would be a girl staring out of a window just before dawn.
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Her child-like, helium-flavored voice can either sound soft and sweet or like she’s punching the words out — she caps off certain songs with her signature high-powered yowl. She’s a bit reminiscent of Björk with a touch of Gillian Welch and Cat Power’s Chan Marshall thrown into the mix. You won’t find the thrum of a bass or drums in Newsom’s music, instead she accompanies herself on harp, Wurlitzer electric piano, harpsichord and piano.
Author Dave Eggers waxed poetic about her in Spin Magazine, hoping that she wasn’t as beautiful as her voice, because wouldn’t it be great if a woman could be a quirky singer without being conventionally beautiful. “If Joanna Newsom knows what's good for her,” Eggers wrote, “she should be covered in boils.”
In her latest album, “The Milk Eyed Mender,” Newsom creates small worlds in every song. Her words can be sly and silly, but at times read like poetry. In an interview with the Boston Globe, she talked about how hard she works on her lyrics, saying, “I know exactly what I want to convey, and then I obsess over saying it in a certain way.” In the song “En Gallop,” she sings about the seduction of the dream world over the real one, ending the song with the lines: “Never get so attached to a poem / you forget truth lacks lyricism; / never draw so close to the heat / that you forget you must eat.”
A perfect way to start a cool fall morning, Joanna Newsom is well worth checking out. She’s spending most of fall touring Europe, but hopefully will swing back through the states sometime this winter. For more information: http://www.dragcity.com/bands/newsom.html