Musicians often strive to avoid being pigeonholed, which is something singer-songwriter-multi-instrumentalist Joanna Newsom will never have to worry about. Like her pixie-powerful predecessors Kate Bush, Bjork and Fiona Apple, Newsom's ethereal features, whisper-to-a-scream vocals and intricate, history-lesson lyrics lend her an unearthly quality. Adding to her enigmatic nature, Newsom plays the harp, an unconventional (and unwieldy) instrument, particularly in pop music. Even music videos, like those for "Divers" and "Sapokanikan" from Newsom's latest album Divers (Drag City, Oct. 2015) fall into the "unable-to-categorize" category, thanks to director Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will Be Blood, Magnolia), who cast her in 2014's Inherent Vice, his eponymous film based on the 2009 novel by inscrutable author Thomas Pynchon.
Newsom's music can be as difficult to describe as it is to classify. In a review of Divers, The New York Times wrote of how her music "reflects the serious singer-songwriter folk-pop of the 1970s, American folk traditions, art song and operetta," and how her voice is a "wild bunch of tonal shadings." What is easy about Newsom, however, is recognizing what a gifted musician she is. Easier yet is seeing her live in Boise on Friday, April 1. No fooling.