I could quite legitimately be described as a Newsom fanboy. I have loved everything she has done from the helium voiced early Ep's to the intricate fables of Ys. I have seen her live 10 times, and would quite like to marry her. So I am biased, I admit it. At the same time, I think I have a sufficiently independent mind to judge each album on its own merits, and am able to hold my swoon long enough to engage my brain (this is not true at her concerts - she could sing me Uzbeki nursery rhymes backwards and I would be spellbound).
My initial reaction to 'Have One On Me' ( as with most of her output) was slightly puzzled and cautiously hopeful. I know from experience that the structure, punctuation and resonances of her work take time to settle and form, so I have let the music slosh through me and wash over me, holding back any critical judgement. And all of a sudden, as I hoped it would, the shape took form. While I have been familiar with some of these songs for a while now, it was a new new one, Go Long that seeded the crystal. The novelty of this album is a typically much longer melodic line, accompanied by a softer voice (brought about by a throat infection last year). The spacier, ringing arrangement of Go Long illustrates this change - gone are sharp points and counterpoints of The Book of Right On et al, or even the rush and tumble of Emily - instead she holds her voice, fluctuating or slowly descending around a slow, deliberate harp.
These songs are given much more musical space than the more wordy Ys, and this, combined with more varied arrangements and drawn out phrases, creates an initial impression of a hazy, unfocussed album. Once you catch the idea though, and let the slow ebb and flow of her newly sanded down voice carry you, you get it. Be it singing of abortion on Baby Birch, or of her own conception on '81, this new 'romantic' sound chimes with a much more straightforwardly emotional approach to her subjects - love, in form and in content, fills these songs. There are a couple which have not made their mark with me yet, but the album as a whole, listened to seriously and in silence, is a great and humbling listen, and I did almost cry many times - the 'kindness prevails' close to Esme had me shivering uncontrollably, and the closing Does Not Suffice is desperately sad and dare I say it, moving.
I have not had the time or wit to trace the links between these songs, but it is clear that some phrases, both musical and lyrical, reappear in different guises throughout the album - their is half jaunty, half sad blues line that haunts both Baby Birch and Does Not Suffice. I am certain that, as with her previous works, listening and relistening will repay and repay. I am looking forward to the work.