Thursday, December 20, 2007

Colleen :: Joanna Newsom

From mewithoutYou to Joanna Newsom - uff da, what a leap! And that is why this blog is boss.

So, Joanna Newsom is a pretty predictable choice for me; if you get me talking about music long enough, I'll wander down a windy, multi-forked path for a good long time, but will often end up choosing the road that leads to a tall and sturdy Joanna Newsom soapbox. I picture this soapbox in a sylvan locale inhabited by a wide variety of fantastic flora, fauna, and cave-dwelling, musical instrument-toting elves.

The pervasive grey and chill of winter is making me return to the things that bring me warmth and comfort, and happily, her music is one of these things. I remember the first time I heard her - it was Easter weekend of 2005, and the lovely Aimee Ringle sent me the song Sprout and the Bean in an email. I think I listened to it 8 million times, then called Aimee to geek out. Since then, I've loved her, deeply.

But, some people just don't! Either you totally dig Joanna Newsom, or you think she's totally weird - there seems to be very little middle ground. But come on. She rocks out on a harp, she's weirdly gifted, and ethereally beautiful. How could you not be charmed? Anyway, much has been written about Joanna and her music; I can hardly add anything new, but I'll be damned if I don't try.

This past April she released an EP, Joanna Newsom & The YS Street Band. In addition to the Song of the Day choice, Colleen, this EP features new versions of two older songs, Clam, Crab, Cockle, Cowrie (from The Milk Eyed Mender, 2004 and Walnut Whales EP, 2002) and Cosmia (from Ys, 2006). I really enjoy her new takes on these two songs. In keeping with the style of her earlier arrangements, Clam, Crab, Cockle, Cowrie was originally a solo harp/vocal piece. This version is a duet; her voice has lost some of its shrillness, and the harp technique and tempo are more expressive. Cosmia, from her latest full-length album, was arranged for vocals, harp, orchestra. This pared-down version with the band feels more steeped in folk tradition and has a more improvisational sound than the original. She seems to have endless creativity and potential.

So, Colleen! It represents a new direction in her writing; the tight interplay of her harp with the rest of the band rocks my world. It is reminiscent of old Appalachian folk tunes crossed with a Klezmer ensemble and a tripped-out San Francisco drum circle. Or, uh, something like that, anyway. Like a well-wrapped little gift, this song is self-contained, unexpected, and full of promise.

The footage is quite representative of a live show experience. I've seen her twice, last fall at the 400 Bar in Minneapolis, and this past May at Red Rocks in Denver. I think that is why I like this EP so much - on both those tours, she was rockin' with the "Ys Street Band". Live, she is both humble and captivating; almost hypnotic. This girl has got skills, man, she's a powerhouse. Watch, listen, enjoy - and share your opinion in the comments section!

As a side note, if you like her sound, check out Ys. Five songs long (the longest clocking in at 16:55 - seriously) each one is like an epic tale. She recounts wild fantastical stories and beautiful quips, all in her oddly childlike voice. This is the kind of music that headphones were made for. Live, she actually performs all five back to back - stunning.

For real, your wordy blogger is now over and out!!! XOXO Kim

LYRICS (there's a lot of them...)
I'll tell it as I best know how,
And that's the way it was told to me: I
Must have been a thief or a whore,
Then surely was thrown overboard,
Where, they say,
I came this way from the deep blue sea.

It picked me up and tossed me round.
I lost my shoes and tore my gown,
I forgot my name,
And drowned.

Then woke up with the surf a - pounding;
It seemed I had been run aground.

Well they took me in and shod my feet
And taught me prayers for chastity
And said my name would be Colleen, and
I was blessed among all women,
To have forgotten everything.

And as the weeks and months ensued
I tried to make myself of use.
I tilled and planted, but could not produce -
not root, nor leaf, nor flower, nor bean; Lord!
It seemed I overwatered everything.

And I hate the sight of that empty air,
like stepping for a missing stair
and falling forth forever blindly:
cannot grab hold of anything! No,
Not I, most blessed among Colleens.


I dream some nights of a funny sea,
as soft as a newly born baby.

It cries for me pitifully!
And I dive for my child with a wildness in me,
and am so sweetly there received.

But last night came a different dream;
a gray and sloping-shouldered thing
said "What's cinched 'round your waist, Colleen?
is that my very own baleen?
No! Have you forgotten everything?"

This morning, 'round the cape at dawn,
some travellers sailed into town
with scraps for sale and the saddest songs
and a book of pictures, leather-bound, that
showed a whale with a tusk a meter long.

Well, I asked the man who showed it me,
"What is the name of that strange beast?"
He said its name translated roughly to

And I am without words.
He said, "My lady looks perturbed.
(the light is in your eyes, Colleen.)"
I said, "Whatever can you mean?"
He leaned in and said,
"You ain't forgotten everything."


"You dare to speak a lady's name?"
He said, "My lady is mistaken.
I would not speak your name in this place;
and if I were to try then the wind - I swear -
would rise, to tear you clean from me without a trace."

"Have you come, then, to rescue me?"
He laughed and said, "from what, 'Colleen'?"
You dried and dressed most willingly.
you corseted, and caught the dread disease
by which one comes to know such peace."

Well, it's true that I came to know such things as
the laws which govern property
and herbs to feed the babes that wean,
and the welting weight for every season;
but still
I don't know any goddamned "Colleen."

Then dive down there with the lights to lead
that seem to shine from everything -
down to the bottom of the deep blue sea;
down where your heart beats so slow,
and you never in your life have felt so free.
Will you come down there with me?
Down were our bodies start to seem like
artifacts of some strange dream,
which afterwards you can't decipher,
and so, soon, have forgotten

1 comment:

gitfiddler said...

Hail to our Sweet Lady Joanna! I'll never forget that night at the 400. I remember I was so annoyed after standing in line in the cold and snow and then getting inside and seeing how crowded it was and how much I hated the opener. But within the hour, I was staring at the stage in tears with my mouth wide open.
I'm sure that if I'd stumbled upon a troupe of dancing woodsprites who were granting wishes to passers by that I couldn't have been more moved or enchanted.
Thanks for the news! I haven't been keeping tabs on her new music! Yay!