Joanna Newsom | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Joanna Newsom

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On her debut, The Milk-Eyed Mender, Joanna Newsom sang like a 1920s barnstormer, so eager to test the aerobatic limits of her high-pitched, raw-edged voice with dizzying swoops, spins, and dives that she didn't seem to care if she crashed and burned in the process. On its successor, Ys (Drag City), the music climbs to the same spectacular heights as the singing: the five songs total nearly an hour, but their length is more than justified by the richness and drama of the orchestration, courtesy of legendary arranger Van Dyke Parks. The trilling woodwinds and swirling strings seethe behind, surge around, or crowd perilously close to Newsom's elaborate melodies but never quite touch them; her voice and harp hold the center like Homeric champions on a battlefield. And her fanciful lyrics unfold like fairy tales, their themes of vitality and mortality entwined like vines climbing an ancient fieldstone wall. Newsom won't bring an orchestra to this show but rather a six-piece band, which includes guitarist and banjoist Kevin Barker, aka Currituck Co., who recently came through town backing Vashti Bunyan. Bobby Birdman opens. a 7 and 10:30 PM, Logan Square Auditorium, 2539 N. Kedzie, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $20. A

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