REVIEW album Joanna Newsom Divers

Five Years Waiting For a Refill


Joanna Newsom

“All along the road, the lights stream by.
I want to go where the dew won’t dry.
I want to go where the light won’t bend –
Far as the eye may reach – nor end.”

It’s been five long years since Joanna Newsom gave us the wonderful ‘Have One On Me’. One drink never lasted so long!

Newsom has just “fuckin’ finally” ended the drought with the release of her magnificent new opus, ‘Divers’ , an album as captivating and charming, as it is labyrinthine. Intricate compositions are carefully interwoven to form a resplendent, transcendent record, which is probably her best to-date.

Bringing together a troupe of diverse collaborators – from David Londstreth of Dirty Projectors fame to guitarist/composer Ryan Francesconi and percussionist/songwriter Neal Morgan, not to mention the City of Prague PO - Newsom has managed to meld their redoubtable nous and eclectic musical philosophies to form the most perfect illuminated and engagingly intimate of story lines.

Quirky, with a voice as delicate as vintage lace, Newsom is redolent of an American Kate Bush, but with the far into the future vision of Bjork and the gutsy effusiveness of Tori Amos. An hugely talented multi-instrumentalist, Newsom, covers off Harp, Piano, Mellotron, Harpsichord, Organ, Vocals … the list is endless. And all on top of song-writing and arranging duties!

“I had a dream that I walked in the garden of Chabot, and those telescope ruins.
It was there that I called to my true love, who was pale as milleniual moons,
Honey, where did you come by that wound?”

Divers is not just a compilation of songs, it is a collection of intelligent, emotionally perceptive poems, set to the most enchantingly performed, perfectly considered and skilfully arranged musical backdrops by “an acolyte of melody and beauty in form, a crackerjack of emotional truth”.

Anecdotes is song cinematic in breadth, animated by woodwind sounds redolent of flitting birds, soaring strings, pellucid flute, joyous piano, and the purity of that most wondrous of instruments, the harp. Their perfect confluence serves Newsom’s voice well.

Sapokanikan – the name the Native Americans originally gave to what is now knows as Greenwich Village – is a conversational piece, underscored with a rain shower of piano and intermittent jazzy natty glockenspiel percussion. A bit Amos in attitude and very early Bush in its layered vocal harmonies, this is a perky little attention grabbing number, a fact which Newsom seems to relish.

Leaving the City takes a volte face! Kicking off in the mode of a medieval-esque charmer with a hint of hey nonny, nonny, it has a delightful tone set by both harp and mellotron. Guitar and drums kick in to give it a modern feel, but this is a song whose sound persists in harking backwards, reflecting the lyrical perspective, and attitude of someone leaving the familiar behind them.

The title track is as delightful a journey into the theme of love and time, using the sea as its motif, it is beautifully expressive, majestically vocalised and exquisitely performed.

Same Old Man paints a picture of an everyday landscape , set to a Celtic semi-trad air, but given added colour and verve with the introduction of the banjo.

In creating ‘Divers’, Joanna Newsom has lovingly and patiently, threaded musical exotica, medieval baroque, and orchestral rhapsody. This is an exceptional array of clear and sprightly vocals, spectacular strings including outstanding harp playing, buoyant horns and intuitive percussion.

Has it been worth the five year wait? Without doubt. In a word – exceptional. 10/10.

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