Joanna Newsom - Divers 2xLP
Label: Drag City
It's impossible to listen Joanna Newsom casually, and you can never rely on first impressions with her music. In fact as much as some of us here deeply love her albums, there is always a resigned feeling of an endurance test at first, that slowly lets up through repeated listens, until it wears in on you quite nicely. Once comfortable in its structure, its labyrinthian nuances set up like traps of discovery and the overall effect is like a garden just coming to bloom. Divers sits somewhere between her last two records, a couple of long jewel-laden epics, but mostly shorter and more digestible songs. Not as rife with emotion and symbolic as Ys, but more complexly intricate than the '70s California song cycle of Have One On Me.
The hooting sound of an owl opens and closes the album suggesting an autumnal shift in mood. Indeed Divers reads like an album to be played over a long night, from dusk to dawn. For starters, the piano (as well as Fender Rhodes and harpsichord) dominate. Her signature harp doesn't appear until the third song and though it has a strong presence on Divers as a whole, Newsom seems to want to appear less attached to it, or showcase other talents instead, in which there are plenty here. The orchestrations are incredibly arranged without overwhelming the songs, and her voice and song structures are definitely moving more into Kate Bush territory. It may also be the first time she has tackled a cover, the traditional folk song, "Same Old Man" sung most famously before by Karen Dalton on her second album, and she delivers it beautifully.