Joanna Newsom

There is a group of musician elite, whose members stand out as totally different, clearly following a muse that is unseen and unheard by others. They make music on their own terms, challenging the listener in ways that can dazzle and sometimes bewilder. And they challenge themselves, too, refusing to retread a musical path they have taken to what they view as its conclusion. You may not always understand the meaning or message they are trying to deliver—and you may be frustrated when they take their music in a new direction—but you know they are doing something that is original and, for them, necessary.

Joanna Newsom should be counted amongst that elite class. A harpist, pianist and singer usually put into the psych-folk box with friends like Devendra Banhart, Newsom has virtuosic playing skills and a restless creativity. Her abilities allow her to combine complex music structures with the storytelling of Appalachian music. And though her vocal squeal has diminished of late due to use and illness from what had been referred to as something between Lisa Simpson and Kate Bush to a more conventional sound, that instrument too impresses.

These days, Newsom's touring in support of this year's three-CD opus titled Have One On Me. In her five-piece touring set-up, which will feature violin, trombone, percussion and guitar, Newsom will perform on harp and piano. There's no denying that her music is not for the masses. But it's not often you get to see an artist so singular in her vision, and so capable of delivering it.

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Doug Davis