Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The New Breed- Joanna Newsom 2004

Throughout my life, i have been a gigantic fan of fingerpick style guitar. I remember when i was just learning to play Blink 182 and Nirvana on guitar, Green Day came out with Good Riddance (Time of your Life), and in that song, combined with my taking lessons on a deeper learning of the handwork of guitar, i had found my song to learn to sing and play at the same time. That combination, of dexterity and memory of handskill, combined with adding your own simpler vocal melody on top of a mathematically tricky hand riff became a challenge i took on instantly in my musical work of middle school forward. Champions of this combo are many but few; i have only clung on to a select group that friends from music school recommended (kurt engelburt and tony carnicelli, thank you very much). I have viewed many others proficient in the work, but Doc Watson and Joanna Newsom were the two that have stuck to me most dearly.

I have shared Doc Watson before; his rendition of Deep River Blues is classic, oldschool fingerpicking vocal action. And whatta voice! But, for The New Breed Challenge, i bring up a lady who has gathered a lot of talk in the last few years. Joanna Newsom has now released 3 studio albums, each of which got infinitely more intricate in composition, but also arrangement and length; her 3rd album was more than two hours of music spread over 3 discs.

Her first album, The Milk-Eyed Mendor, introduced her in a very lovely way. She is a classically trained harp player, starting at a very young age i am sure and practicing complicated music. But Milk-Eyed Mendor begins with a lovely harp line playing a simple pop structured song, with only her lovely harp work and her quite unique voice. Her voice was a tipping point for a lot of people back in 2004, showing her to them and not sure how to expect their thoughts to range. Some ate her up, some heard her voice hit those first notes and began cringing.

The Sprout and The Bean is a good representation of both her skill and her weird abrasiveness; the video makes sure to let you get a good look at the crazy things she is doing with her hands while singing... truly incredible things... but then in comes that nasal super overdubbed chorus for the vocals, and people turn away. She straightened this out over her next albums, but there is still something classic to the first four tracks from Milk-Eyed Mendor. The rest of the album takes the harp away and adds some of her lovely piano work, and also drums and bass; but from a student in finger work, the harp added a challenge i was not aware of. The work that you can train the hand you use for your bass tones (my hand is left, and im a right handed picker), in a harp as opposed to a guitar, is much easier to add harmonic intricacy to. And she knows her stuff; not many harpists out there go playing covers of Beatles songs, theyre all doing classical-music instrumentals.

the milk eyed mendor

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