Tag Archive: Joanna Newsom


Sad to see that, after just over 8 years of flying the free flag for a more enlightened America, Arthur Magazine is officially no more.

No more Arthur Radio, no more Arthur blog, no more Arthur anything. This is not a great surprise but a sad loss all the same.

You don’t need to be majoring in economics  to realise that giving away a magazine every two months is not a viable business model but the fact that it was free was vital since it meant that the writers were not required to  tailor  articles to commercial interests.

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I have the shiny blog/online zine Magpie to thank for pointing me in the direction to this album of Joanna Newsom covers.

It’s a win-win deal because if you donate at least $10 you get to download the 22 track album and at the same time help Oxfam America raise funds for the Pakistan Flood Reliefs fund – a no brainer if ever there was one. Get it here.

It’s curious to hear these songs by other artists and, as you can imagine, the results are mixed. There are smattering of duds but the affection/awe towards the first lady of freak folk shines through.

Ben Sollee got the short straw by taking on a ten minute version of Sawdust & Diamonds, which like many of the tracks has to go down as a noble failure. Billy Bragg‘s name sticks out like the proverbial sore thumb and his version of On A Good Day is predictably clunky. On first listen, the two tracks that stood out for me were M.Ward‘s take on Sadie and Owen Pallett‘s version of Peach, Plum, Pear.

And if you’re one of those who are in the hate camp when it comes to Joanna Newsom’s voice (shame on you! 🙂 ) ,  you may actually prefer these covers which demonstrate what a remarkable song writer she is.


Joanna Newsom certainly knows how to create a buzz.

Love her or hate her (and I’m totally with the former) she is impossible to ignore. Like Marmite, it’s impossible to remain neutral on the issue.

Her last album, the magnificent Ys from 2006, drew massive attention through its originality, complexity and duration.

‘Folk’ artists just don’t make records like this and now, as if to up the ante, she has just gone and released a triple album – ‘Have One On Me’ – whose 18 songs have a total playing time of an immense 2 hours and 4 minutes.

Ms Newsom once again acts in accordance with Oscar Wilde’s famous aphorism that : “Moderation is a fatal thing. Nothing succeeds like excess” .

Snap judgements as to whether it is up the same high standard set by Ys should be treated with a pinch of salt not because they can’t be true, but simply because it is impossible to digest such a vast collection of songs immediately; hers are records to live with and dip into rather than consume whole.

On first listening I picked the tracks Esme and California  for their sheer gorgeousness but I fully expect these favourites to change with each listening.

Amazingly, Joanna Newsom is still only 28 and heaven knows where she’ll go for here. Even if she never makes another record, she’s already produced a rich body of work to last for years to come.


madridIn the past, particularly in the sixties, underground music was a label given either to cult artists who were difficult to seek out or whose music could in some way be defined as oppositional to the establishment.

As critic Simon Reynolds points out in his excellent article for The Guardian, these former definitions are no longer convincing as a new generation of fans consume and conceive of music in a wholly different ways.

When I was a lad, if I read about some obscure new band in the New Musical Express, the only way to hear what they sounded like was to track down the vinyl or hope that John Peel would play them on his radio show. Nowadays such enlightenment is just a mouse click away. This is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it reveals to us some amazing ‘hidden’ sounds while on the other hand the sense of mystery is lost. As Reynolds points out,  you can’t keep secrets for very long on the Net – the worldwide web is a free for all community.

Personally,  the accessibility of all this marginal music has opened by ears to a wealth of possibilities and re-ignited my enthusiasm for sounds which can’t be neatly packaged within narrow boundaries. It has confirmed my loathing for the nostalgia peddled by glossy adult orientated mags like Mojo and Word. This pseudo rock academia merely panders to the post 30 something listeners who get a hard on for whatever they got their collective rocks off to when they were 18.

The fact that legal and illegal downloads makes limited edition or deleted titles available to the masses doesn’t make this music for the masses. Whenever there’s a choice between easy and ‘difficult’ listening, the vast majority of consumers opt for the former. The mainstream media may have expanded enormously in the past decade but it is still largely unable to grasp the true value of anything that cannot be readily compartmentalized or easily packaged for a target audience.

This is exemplified by the rise of the so-called ‘weird’ music of  drone, noise, new psychedelia and free folk which has thrived in spite of being largely ignored by the mass media. The smart press have belatedly acknowledged ‘overground’ artists like Animal Collective, Devendra Banhart and Joanna Newsom but have largely ignored the fact that these represent only the tip of massive iceberg.

I agree with Reynolds that the old definitions of ‘underground’ music no longer carry much weight in the same way that to describe artists as ‘alternative’ or ‘indie’ is ultimately meaningless. I take comfort from the knowledge that the best music is still out there in the margins rather than festering in the mainstream.  This may be easier to locate than it was half a century ago but this doesn’t mean that it’s any more palatable to the lumpen masses . To my ears the counter cultural edge has not been entirely blunted. There is still a healthy minority who oppose the disgusting normalness of modern culture and look to music to communicate a truth and vitality that squeaky clean X-Factor wannabes will never satisfy.

The underground is dead – long live the underground!


Call me disillusioned.

I could just about stomach the tasteful ads for Belgian beer and cheese using Devendra Banhart songs BUT Joanna Newsom helping to selling a bank (HSBC) is too much.

‘New folk’ was supposed to stand for a new sincerity and integrity which doesn’t square with helping to promote a financial institution who , despite having no credible green credentials, still have the gall to use an environmental protest to sell their services. As if they give a fuck!

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