A stripped down collection of three tracks featuring two alternate and rearranged versions of older songs (“Crab, Clam, Cockle, Cowrie” and “Cosmia”) and a new composition (“Colleen”), the Joanna Newsom & The Ys Street Band Ep was released in 2007, one year after her orchestral tour de force Ys.
Joanna Newsom’s arrangements for a five piece band bring to the fore the traditional Folk/Americana roots element in her music in terms of vocal harmonies and instrumentation (harp with banjo & mandolin, guitar, drum and accordion).
If there are a few “Celtic” references in Joanna Newsom’s work (“Ys” points to the mythological submerged Breton city), her music doesn’t distinctly stem from the Western European tradition. However, as a lot of the traditional repertoire written for the harp comes from the Breton, Scottish, Irish, Welsh, Cornish and Manx traditions, most classical harp students start with the folk harp. “When I was younger, everything followed a general Celtic music form […]” she told The Wire.
These “Celtic” inflections definitely resurface in a song like “Colleen”. At the same time, the singer’s epic storytelling is always hinting at the long descriptive folk ballads of the English, Scottish and Irish repertoire in terms of lyrics. Joanna Newsom’s language and imagery is so rich that many songs read like detailed storyboards for an animation short or a film. “Colleen” is one of these songs. In 2012, Brisbane-based freelance illustrator Sophie Blackhall-Cain set out to illustrate the song in a comic format and posted a few pages on her Tumblr blog in advance of potential publication.