Joanna Newsom, Ys (Drag City)

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Joanna Newsome: Monkey & Bear
Joanna Newsom, Ys (Drag City)

Arriving at the tail end of last year, this album was too late for it to be considered by reviewers and so has largely gone unacknowledged. But it has appeared on numerous international "best of 2006" lists.

However be warned, this baroque folk is not an easy proposition: Newsom sometimes sings like Bjork channelling Shirley Temple, and with lavish string arrangements by Van Dyke Parks it is as if the Incredible String Band have collided with an orchestra.

Oh, and the five tracks average out to around 10 minutes apiece.

Harpist and singer Newsom presents lyrical and melodic challenges (choruses are virtually non-existent and you'd be forgiven for thinking much of this is stream-of-consciousness), but repeated listening is very rewarding and her vocal quirkiness starts to take a backseat to deep immersion in her magical, pastoral world.

Best entry point may be Sawdust and Diamonds when it is just her and harp, and I leave it over to you to investigate other internet sites for the academic deconstruction of her lyrical density. But Newsom is a unique voice and folk music has never sounded quite so . . .

Well, just never sounded quite so. 

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