Personnel: Joanna Newsom (vocals, vocals, harp, piano, Wurlitzer piano, harpsichord); Noah Georgeson (guitar, background vocals).
Joanna Newsom plays the harp, looks like an elf princess, and sings in a squeaky child-like voice, all of which contribute to her unique charm. Like her pal and frequent collaborator Devendra Banhart, she's also a shining light of the early 2000s neo-folk movement, which bonds quirky wordplay and fuzzy eccentricity with a deep reverence for authentic rural folk.
Whether accompanying herself on harp, harpsichord, or piano, Newsom plunges into the archaic depths of American roots music and cherry-picks the most heartbreaking passages, weaving everything together with lyrics of shockingly formal eloquence that present dense poetic imagery in the vein of BRINGING IT ALL BACK HOME-era Dylan. Songs like "Sprout and the Bean," "Peach, Plum, Pear," and "Sadie" weave enough elaborate visions for a dozen ballads, adding something more than the expected folksy tweeness. Throughout THE MILK-EYED MENDER, Newsom's lulling harp and odd vocalizing combine to create something utterly original, yet deeply familiar, standing firm at the crossroads between outsider art and genuine brilliance.
What the critics say...
Rolling Stone (p.146) - Included in Rolling Stone's Top 50 Records Of 2004 - "[She] trills gorgeous melodies with poetry..."
Spin (p.63) - Ranked #40 in Spin's "40 Best Albums of the Year" - "With her pint-size voice and full-size harp, Newsom baffled and charmed indie-folk fans this year..."
Uncut (p.98) - 4 stars out of 5 - "So freshly individual is the 22-year-old Newsom, it's like decoding a Picasso or retracing Escher's op-art illusions."
Mojo (Publisher) (p.78) - "Her songs sound ancient and childlike, part Appalachian folk reverie, part Roald Dahl yarn."
Mojo (Publisher) (p.110) - 3 stars out of 5 - "Over and above her gorgeous, spare arrangements for harp, piano and harpsichord, it's Joanna Newsom's voice that really steals the show....This is a weird, dark record."