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Joanna Newsom

Ys

Just as Cat Power's The Greatest evoked cinematic visions of Memphis, Joanna Newsom's second album conjures a world of her own devising, one filled with sawdust and diamonds, and monkeys and bears. Her five Ys songs unfold like stories, with co-producer Van Dyke Parks adding orchestral arrangements.

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Newsom's lyrics tumble from scene to scene. "Only Skin" leaps from a man on his deathbed, to his wife's worries, then back to the man's fevered memories. The characters speak in a speckled vocabulary that rivals Matthew Friedberger's. Newsom's girlish, quavering voice could be your mother's telling you these fantasias, stories whose purpose only becomes clear long after you've drifted off to sleep. It is an overpowering experience greater than the sum of its portentous parts. 4 stars

?Joanna Newsom plays the Variety Playhouse Sun., Nov. 19, with Sir Richard Bishop.