Acclaimed avant-garde folk harpist Joanna Newsom to play Liverpool’s Philharmonic Hall next March, Getintothis’ Paul Higham reports.
American alternative folk singer and harpist Joanna Newsom is to play Liverpool’s Philharmonic Hall on March 1.
With a career that has transcended genres and continually defied any attempt to pigeon-hole, Newsom is a rare talent and in many ways entirely unique. What defines her is her voice. That voice. With the possible exception of Kate Bush, with whom comparisons are inevitable if not always apposite, it is quite unlike anything that has been before and works as an instrument in its own right.
Often competing with her intricate harp playing, it sometimes feels as if it has a life of its own. Indeed watching Newsom play is an entirely intense experience, leaving the impression that she has been possessed by a spirit stronger than herself. Often playing till her fingers bleed, a Joanna Newsom gig makes like a religious experience and the crystal clear acoustics of Liverpool’s Philharmonic Hall will provide the perfect environment in which to hear the sounds from her new album, Divers.
Where her career since the arresting and startling debut Milk Eyed Mender has followed an unconventional path, Divers is perhaps Newsom at her most accessible. The album retains much of what characterised her earlier work, dense literary literary allusions replete with obscure references remain but it is altogether a lighter affair.
This is aided by it feeling like a more conventional release. Where Ys was a lengthy five song suite that drew its influences from medieval balladry and metaphysical poetry and Have One On Me sprawled over three discs lacking focus and demanding patience, Divers is much more a ‘normal’ release. It allows the listener to focus on the melody and the contributions of the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra are often beautiful.
Yet it is only a ‘normal’ release in the context of Newsom‘s career and the effect that has on our expectations as a listener. Songs, although relatively short by Newsom‘s own standards, still defy structural conventions. Freed from such constraints they develop a life of their own as they twist and bend in weird and wonderful directions. You don’t know where they’re headed and as you listen you sense that Newsom doesn’t either.
But, of course, she does. For all the free and improvisatory feel of her work, this is music that is perfectly considered, well-judged and immaculately arranged. Yet it is not to everyone’s taste. The voice and the often outrageously baroque arrangements have led to accusations of contrivance.
Yet such accusations are ill-founded. This is music as an art form, inspired by an entirely unique vision and creative spirit. Sure not everyone likes it, but there is a deep sense of conviction in all that she does and the overriding impression is of an artist being true to herself. Why would she contrive to produce music that is essentially niche and often divisive.
When Joanna Newsom rolls in town next year, we’re sure however that she will be greeted with the universal acclaim her many talents deserve. This will be a special concert. A talking point. An event. One to get excited about.
We’re certainly excited for this one, and so should you be too.
Tickets go on sale at 9am on Wednesday December 9 and are available here.