Is there any better way to spend a sunny Easter Saturday than dozing in a graveyard listening to music? If there is I haven’t found it. My choice of album for this week’s article may not be quite as obscure as Jimmy’s regular selections, but I think it works well all the same. Ignoring the slightly odd location (I don’t think of it as a real graveyard, more a park with dead bodies six feet under the benches), it’s been a good day’s listening, with my iPod (which is unfortunately dying) playing ‘Ys’ by Joanna Newson, courtesy of Newton Abbot library.
The album consists of five long tracks, all of which sound like medieval epic poems set to flutes, oboes and a concert orchestra. But if you’re naturally sceptical, don’t let that put you off; everything sounds fresh because the arrangements are excellent, and with contributions from people like Steve Albini and Jim O’Rourke (without whose help, Newsom says in the booklet, the “record could not have sounded remotely as it does”), you know it should be pretty good.
On a spring day, the melodies seem to simply float, but every so often there is an orchestral THUD, or BOOM, and you are reminded of the power of the backing Ms Newson has collected around her. But the album’s greatest strength lies in its lyrics – dream-like stories, folk-tales; most notable is track two, ‘Monkey and Bear’, which opens with the line: “down in the green hay where monkey and bear usually lay, they woke from a stable boy’s cry. He said: “someone come quick – the horses got loose, got grass-sick, they’ll founder! Fain, they’ll die!”” Imagine that set to music, and you begin to understand how listening to this album is a deeply rewarding experience. And Newsom’s voice adds to the textures of the music and lyrics – it has an almost Bjork-like quality to it, at times strained, at times quiet; not effortless, but just entirely natural, fitting with the rhythm of the plucked that softly surround the words. Magical.