The Milk-Eyed Mender
The scrambled fairyland found in The Milk-Eyed Mender might’ve been created by Beatrix Potter under the influence of magic mushrooms, but actually it’s the work of singer/songwriter Joanna Newsom who infuses this 2004 release with a sweetly surreal glow. These songs are not for everybody — the lyric vocabulary is exotic, the melodies are childlike to the point of preciousness, and Newsom sings in a girlish warble while accompanying herself on harp and piano. But once the listener gets acclimated to its peculiarities, the album makes for revelatory listening. Newsom’s music takes folk-rooted forms and twists them into idiosyncratic shapes. Tracks like “Sprout And The Bean,” “The Book Of Right-On” and “This Side Of The Blue” are poetic meanders filled with whimsical details and startling imagery. Some tunes — especially “Cassiopeia,” an insomniac’s lullaby — come across like word-association games set to music. A playful, twang-laden country element creeps into “Inflammatory Writ” and “Sadie.” “Swansea” and the traditional tune “Three Little Babies,” carry a spooky undercurrent. The most affecting song is “Clam, Crab, Cockle, Cowrie,” a haunting meditation on loneliness. Dreamlike, delicate and sometimes downright weird, The Milk-Eyed Mender surrenders its strange charms if given the chance.