The Goodness of Joanna Newsom

A fellow blogging buddy of mine last night wrote that Joanna Newsom was just not her thing. Couldn’t quite get past the voice. To be fair, I understand completely. When I first heard her voice, I was blown away by the raw, unrefined sound to it, and it really caught me off-guard. Her music, with its amazing depth and lushness, was what really kept me coming back for more.

As time wore on and after repeated re-listens of “Milk-Eyed Mother” and “Ys,” I realized just how much I really enjoy the unparalleled uniqueness of her vocals. Some have called her child-like. I disagree. I said it before and I’ll say it again: Alison Shaw has the most child-like voice I’ve ever heard. That’s including Mari Smith, who is 12, so … you know … take that for what it’s worth. As you all should know by now, I *adore* Ali’s voice, and you’ll never read otherwise from me. Which brings me back to Joanna’s uniqueness on her first 2 CDs.

It’s definitely an acquired taste. Her voice can be, dare I say it, un-nerving. One of my other first reactions was the strinking similarity to her style and Bob Dylan’s. 20 years ago, If I were a record producer and I was the one in the studio for his first recording and all I heard were his vocals, I probably would have tossed him out. Yah, that may be met with some harsh criticism and backlash, which is what I would expect from a well-educated musical community. 20 years later, I cantruly appreciate his music for the overall package and not just his nasaly, semi-non-singing approach to vocals. Joanna Newsom is the same way. She is a package deal, and to accept her as an artist (which, just my opinion here, she is very much moreso than 90% of musicians out there today) is to accept the fact that her first two albums were vocally raw and unpolished. THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH THAT.

Now … having said all that, I would *highly* encourage anyone who has any mis-givings about Ms. Newsom’s vocal abilities to please pick up her 3-CD release, Have One on Me. Her vocals are drastically different, and truthfully, I was a tad disappointed when I first heard them. However, I now underestand that we’re just flat-out lucky to even have these new CDs (long story short, she developed vocal nodules and it literally left her voiceless for 2 months, after which she was never able to sing the same way). Her voice now seems much more … normal? I guess …? For wont of a better term, I guess that will have to do. Sadly, in my opinion, it takes just a bit of mystique away that she had in the first 2 CDs.

As my good buddy Kip pointed out the other day, we do not tell someone that their musical opinions are wrong. It’s just not cool. We may disagree and we may present our opinions … heck, some of us may have incredibly strong opinions (read: I do indeed have incredibly strong opinions …) but I will never tell someone that their opinion is wrong because it’s not and never will be. It will always be their opinion, to which he or she is perfectly entitled, just like I’m entitled to my opinions. If they’re similar and we see eye to eye, great! If we have a differing view point, so what? There’s too much music to agree upon to get caught up on telling someone that their opinion is wrong. That’s just ludicrous.

So to you, my SF blogging buddy who may or may not even read this, I respect your opinion to the hilt. I hope you know that by now. You’ve shown me some amazing, fantastic music, and for that, I’m eternally grateful. I just happen to disagree with you on this one small point. Joanna Newsom’s vocals, in my opinion, made her first 2 CDs that much more exhilerating.


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