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Drag City's Milk-Eyed Mender biography

PostPosted: 16 May 2010, 14:31
by milky moon
Drag City now takes great pleasure in introducing to you this remarkable new musical singer, songwriter and all-around talent, Joanna Newsom. To those of you who don’t already know her, that is — Joanna’s cassettes, CD-Rs and mp3s have been making the rounds among the sharp-eared discerning types out there for whom new music is a joy and a pleasure that can’t be denied. For them and for you, we offer The Milk-Eyed Mender.

Raised in the tiny gold-rush town of Nevada City, California, Joanna Newsom began playing harp at the age of eight. She studied Celtic, Senegalese, Venezuelan, and Western Classical harp techniques. By the end of high school her intention was to be a composer. Soon, however, Joanna found her interest shifting to a different kind of music, reflecting her love for Appalachian folk and bluegrass. For the first time, she was starting to sing alongside the harp. Her first home-recording (the unstudied and exuberant “Walnut Whales”) was initially handed out to friends only, but soon Newsom was being contacted by a number of strangers who had somehow gotten a copy. One of these strangers was Will Oldham, who invited Newsom to join a tour he was planning for the following spring. That winter she played a few shows supporting her friend Devendra Banhart, as well as Cat Power. Soon Newsom was selling out small venues in the Bay Area (where she now lives), and receiving extremely positive local and national press. The next move was to make an album. And here it is.

Joanna’s music has more of an affinity with the folk revival of the 60s, or the bluegrass movement at present, than with most contemporary “folk” (or “anti-folk”) scenes. Affinities aside, her style could hardly be called bluegrass; nor does it evoke the pastoral tonalities of 60s folk: she sings about whalebones, sleep, grammar, mollusks, accumulation, automobiles, owls, burning boats, string collections, milk, teeth, bridges, balloons, cake, colors, and kin, all in an otherworldly, ragged-sweet voice that defies convention. Her harp arrangements are at times ethereal and delicate, at others galloping and ornate, but never overwrought — presenting not so much a mere fusion of influences, as an inquiry into the places where those influences naturally intersect. She considers the late composer Ruth Crawford Seeger (who was one of American folk music’s earliest advocates, as well as a vanguardist composer) to be a major influence, because of Seeger’s ability and desire to reconcile the tenets of experimentalism with her love for a beautiful melody.

The embroidered design of The Milk-Eyed Mender reiterates the vivid, homespun narratives of Joanna Newsom’s songs. Lyrically, she frames her unique vision of the world with words that seem dug up after a century underground -- — and while the material she tills from the dirt can seem as familiar to the listener as potatoes, it also glimmers in the spade like loose jewels. By turns elementary or rarefied, her words are always achingly heartfelt: these songs are meant to be turned over in the palm of your hand and held onto tightly.

Start listening now — for the striking new sound of Joanna Newsom.