Two years after the release of her most recent album, Have One on Me, Joanna Newsom has something to share. The alt-folk queen’s long-time musical home, Drag City, recently released a previously unheard recording of some antique Newsom.
“Instrumental 1999”, as they’re calling it, is exactly what it sounds like: an instrumental track from 1999. That’s five years before her major label debut, The Milk-Eyed Mender, and three years before her unofficial first record, the self-released Walnut Whales. The song is simply six minutes of beautiful harp playing from the future musical legend. Drag City says of the track:
Here's something from the rich soil of the past we think you'll dig — the sound of Joanna Newsomcirca 1999. No singing here — no songs per se to be sung yet! At this stage, young Jo was writing her heart and mind out, with an eye towards modern classical music. Hours of music were taped, capturing everything from motive to theme to variations and intervals and all those other things we here at the record company don't understand. '99 found Newsom, newly armed with a driver's license and a Dodge Caravan, making waves in the greater Tahoe-area wedding-music circuit, and dreaming of a musical world somewhere between fin de siècle Symbolism and West African counterpoint. Alone with her ideas in a tiny town, untouched by the currents of the world outside, she was free in the caves of her imagination, mining a vein that has yielded different elements over time while maintaining a voice that has coalesced into something never before heard.
A couple of weeks ago the track was included on Harpfelt Connections, a benefit album for The Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital Foundation. Listen to “Instrumental 1999” below.