Joanna Newsom's latest effort would really feel like it belongs in the '70s, weren't it for the superb production values (mixed by the great Jim O'Rourke!). First there's that beautiful cover that just can't be contained by a CD cover (much less a 300x300 jpeg file), it's really meant to be enjoyed as an LP cover, with all the little details. It's simply beautiful (but then again we got a lot of beautiful album art this year, check out my first two nominees...).
Then there's the fact that while this is a triple album, it's not an especially dauting one. This is not the Smashing Pumpkins' Mellon Collie or the Red Hot Chili Pepper's Stadium Arcadium, both great double albums hindered by the sheer length of both discs. Have One On Me's three discs all run for about 35-45 minutes, each over six songs, each being its own pretty, self-contained (but not too much), more easily swallowable pill.
Stylistically, Have One On Me doesn't stray too far from its predecessors. It's still mostly harp and voice. In fact, it feels even "purer" than the last two albums, in that way. While some songs feature piano, strings, percussions and trumpet, they're almost always playing second fiddle to Joanna's voice and harp. Considering how pretty that voice and that harp sound, that's far from a bad thing.
If your first impressions of Joanna were on her debut, The Milk-Eyed Mender, I would say this new album is worth a try even if you didn't like her earlier work, especially if what put you off was her voice. She still sounds unique, but her timbre is definitely softer. The perfect showcase for this evolution would probably be "In California", on which she sounds breathy, almost ethereal.
Lyrically, this album really shines. Joanna's songs are (in)famous for being insanely long, leaving you wondering just how she can remember every lyric live. I mean, just the title track is more than 700 words long, and I don't even think that's the longest one. For a lot of people I know, that's off-putting. Daunting, even. Please don't let it be. Joanna Newsom is one of the most accomplished writers I know. Please note, I didn't say "songwriter", but "writer". If she ever got tired of making music, this woman would be just as famous writing short stories for children, young and old. Don't think of those as long songs, but rather as small fables.
With such a perfect curriculum, it's hard to really say which Joanna Newsom is the best. Ys is probably the most representative of the artist, but Have One On Me still shines because it innovates on her standard formula on plenty of small details, most of which can't even be described through words. So I suggest you start listening, instead.
Listen to the first single off the album, Good Intentions Paving Company (strangely devoid of harp, but still incredible)
Listen to Kingfisher, my favorite song off the album