|Joanna Newsom – THE MILK-EYED MENDER
Grade 10 2004
While some mourn the inertia of Jeff Mangum or the graceless selling of Bob Dylan’s soul to Victoria Secret, I suggest that if you want to find poetry and grace with a folk twist you need to look no further than the first LP from Joanna Newsom, The Milk-Eyed Mender. On it you will find a collection of 12 songs, many of which have lived with Newsom for some time on her self-released EPs and touring, and all of which have been sharpened up into admirable pieces of craft, intelligence and wit. She is fond of creating unusual rhymes in her lyrics (my favorite rhyme being “disaster” to “poetaster”) and often switches her rhyming scheme from verse to verse and sometimes throws in an extra rhyme within a line, without ever seeming to be led by her desire to shift the meaning of her text in order to fit the right word. She is also very fond of using a lot of alliteration within her lyrics, as can be ascertained by a look at the track-listing which includes “Bridges and Balloons,” “Peach, Plum, Pear” and “Clam, Crab, Cockle, Cowrie.”
Musically the album is as accomplished as the songwriting, with most of the tracks finding a nice intimate mood with just Newsom on harp and vocals. Occasionally she mixes it up musically and plays the harpsichord or piano and less frequently opts for a little guitar support, like “This Side of the Moon” which features some exquisite supporting work from Noah Georgeson on the slide guitar. However, for the most of the album it is just Newsom and it provides the feeling that we are somehow seeing deeply within the soul of an artist, without the crutch of having overtly personal of confessional lyrics. It is an album that feels deeply but does so in a way that avoids melodrama or excessive sentiment. It is reminiscent of Neutral Milk Hotel’s In an Aeroplane Over the Sea in the way it is able to bare its soul so much musically and lyrically, while remaining highly cryptic and selective about the emotions it is conveying at any given time. Also like that great album, Newsom’s Milk-Eyed Mender continues to remain vital and alive with repeated listens and in fact endears itself to me more with every listen.
BEST TRACK ON THE ALBUM:
SADIE - A fairly obvious choice since this song stands out as being the center piece of the album. It is the longest track on the album and contains the lyric that titles the album. It is also the only track on the album that is a self-contained narrative, while still incorporating some themes and motifs from other tracks on the album – and it packs the biggest emotional weight of the album.