I’m posting this thirteen years to the day after I saw Joanna Newsom’s solo performance at Green Man Festival.
It was 2005. There were around two thousand people standing in a field in Wales. I was one of them. Joanna Newsom was playing the harp and singing on the stage. Nothing else was happening in the world. Nobody dropped a pin, at least not that I heard.
Hearing the album today still takes me back to that solo performance, takes me back to a thousand times between now and then. The hypnotic intro to Bridges and Balloons fades in and I can remember that was the first song in my headphones on so many journeys I took. I hear it and I’m on a plane or bus or train with industrial scenery flying past. Then she sings We sailed away on a winter’s day with fate as malleable as clay…
Most of the album is harp and vocal, direct and intimate like you’re in the room as she plays. The harp playing is virtuosic, the songs lyrical and dense, anchored in deep traditional folksy roots. There are spine-chilling moments of transcendent beauty, hewn of rough honesty. Joanna Newsom’s singing is distinct, different from later albums. Maybe it’s a little affected. I don’t care, I love it. Listen to it now. Get everything she’s ever done. That is all.