And it’s another one for the stick…
Anthony Easton: Newsom continues with her whole quirky for the sake of being quirky femme chick vibe, this time attached to a ladies of the canyon kind of low key vibe, but the lyrics are new age twaddle, her voice is the helium bunny gone weird, and the production is filled to the gills with sheer pretension. Can she go away soon?
Edward Okulicz: Her voice is still a startlingly dreadful instrument that signifies difficulty for its own sake and its worst crime is it doesn’t even render the lyrics unintelligible.
Chuck Eddy: Could possibly tolerate her ridiculous art-song vocal stylings if she had, I dunno, a band like Sparks in 1972 backing her up, or some 1979 Lene Lovich new wave beats. But this off-kilter piano-folk wheeze just doesn’t cut it, certainly not for seven minutes. Jazzy stuff near the end did add a point, though.
Michaelangelo Matos: The wayward theme to a forgettable ’70s road movie, from right at the point when the entire concept of the “’70s road movie” was hitting the dirt.
Alfred Soto: Best appreciated as a compendium of feminine vocal mannerisms of the last thirty years: Laura Nyro’s hyper-arch trill, Joni Mitchell’s self-deprecating doubling-back upon a lyric, to Kate Bush’s multi-tracked accretion of complexity; all that’s missing is Joan Armatrading’s hortatory bellowing. And I do miss it. The organ washes and brass section remain too damn subtle for my taste. Good intentions, good company.
David Katz: Ys was a shocking, startling album and its burst of verbosity and dense orchestration grabbed listeners by the collar and didn’t let go. You were either dazzled, intrigued or in some cases discomforted by it. Point being, for music fans of a certain stripe, it commanded this attention in a way not many single albums can do. And so three years later, along comes Have One On Me, which considerably strips away the eccentricity, and accordingly, most of the garish personality of her past work. Good Intentions Paving Company exemplifies the album’s pared-back stance: an early 70s classic rock song that Joni Mitchell could have penned in her sleep. Once you’ve hired the orchestra, Van Dyke Parks and Jim O’Rourke, not even triple-LPs can curb the downward slide after the peak.
Alex Macpherson: The closest thing to a pop song on Have Oneu On Me – I still feel inordinately virtuous at having sat through all three CDs of it. It’s easy to pinpoint Newsom’s fortes: her instinct for how words sound, for instance. “Like a bump on a bump on a log, baby / Like I’m in a fistfight with the fog, baby / Step, ball-change and a pirouette / And I regret, I regret!” goes the song’s most enjoyable verse, and it’s both evocative of the narrator’s confusion and Newsom’s own love of language. The vocal nodes that forced her to abandon her more grating mannerisms are welcome, too: she’s no less creative a vocalist now, and much more listenable. But as admirable though this is,it’s also unlovable: you come away impressed at the depth and breadth of Joanna Newsom’s talent, but without much desire to go back for more.
Alex Ostroff: Good Intentions Paving Company is nothing if not generous. As with any number of songs by Newsom, there is a surfeit of details to explore. There’s the way that her description of a road trip doubles as metaphor for the relationship that sours as the road gets rough. Joanna may protest that she can drive, even if her heart can’t, but by song’s end, they both struggle to stay in the right lane. Or the way that both stories dovetail with the gradual musical shift from rolling pianos to tinges of bluegrass (carried over from the lovely stop-gap Ys Street Band EP) and finally the well-earned wordless coda. But none of those are why ‘Good Intentions’ is the song that forced me to finally pay attention to one of my now-favourite artists. This is: her voice. Joanna’s voice, so often decried as twee or precious, rebuts every critique thrown at her. Expressive and varied, she effortlessly runs the emotional gamut from apprehensive to excited to wistful, sometimes all at once. Listen to the way she wraps herself around the word ‘duration.’ Every layer of this has contours to delve into – Joanna twists and winds her way around the instruments, around your ears and your brain and your heart. At seven minutes in length, I’ve probably spent a couple of hours of my life in 2010 listening to this, and I pick up on more nuances every single time.
Zach Lyon: I like this a lot as a logical extension of her career. If Joanna Newsom is going to exist, it’s probably best that she starts to veer towards this hefty Joni revivalism. It’s a coat that fits her almost surprisingly well. And you have to go from twee to somewhere.
Jer Fairall: I’m willing to concede that what she’s doing is either over my head or just something I lack the patience to decode, but it doesn’t stop me from wanting to hear, in her, the warmth and good humour that I get from Owen Pallett, the beatific humanism that I hear radiating from Regina Spektor, or the acknowledgement to pop form that Bjork, even at her most eccentric, rarely lets wane. This is actually less of a chore to get through than other things I’ve heard by her, not at all unpleasant, really, but still wooly and aimless and precious as all hell.
Jonathan Bogart: Jackson Browne just got the weirdest boner.
Martin Skidmore: The title is very good, and she is trying all sorts of different things here, swinging between styles and genres, not so set on the harp and all that, but her mannered singing tends to annoy me and I somehow end up unable to absorb the lyric at all, perhaps too distracted by the vocal gimmickry. Not for me.