Joanna Newsom :: Have One On Me

Listening to Joanna Newsom has always required certain things: patience, trust, an ability to overlook cosmetic flaws in favor of the more complete picture, more patience. Her precedent releases–2004’s Milk-Eyed Mender and 2006’s Ys–required these virtues in increasing numbers. But Have One On Me, her new Victorian triple-decker of an album, is asking for a much longer commitment.

Commitment being the key word. It’s unfair, really, to judge Have One On Me the week, the month, and maybe even the year of its release. Newsom is an artist of considerable talent and intentionality: Have One On Me is as carefully built as Bleek House, and takes as much long-suffering to get through, much less appreciate and critique. There’s so much happening here: narrative lines about man and God and law and love and death weave and block one another throughout the album’s two hours and three discs, fitting together into something so, well, so big that it’s going to take the truly committed at least a good nine months just to determine what, exactly, Newsom is trying to do with Have One On Me, and whether the thing holds together at all.

But is it even worth the attempt? There’s no virtue inherent in releasing an album that takes two hours to listen to, and I’m not sure that Newsom should be lauded for the length and ambition of her creation any more than Merriam and Webster are for theirs. The question, the real question, and it seems almost unfair to ask, is whether Have One On Me can justify its own existence.

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