After touring with Will Oldham, she was quickly signed to Drag City and released her debut album The Milk-Eyed Mender in 2004. Shortly thereafter, Newsom toured with Devendra Banhart and Vetiver and made an early UK appearance at the Green Man Festival in Wales, returning to headline in 2005 and 2007, respectively.
Her second album Ys was released in November 2006. The album features orchestrations and arrangements by Van Dyke Parks, engineering from Steve Albini, and mixing by Drag City label-mate Jim O'Rourke. On a road trip, Bill Callahan recommended she listen to the album Song Cycle by Parks, which led to his being chosen to arrange her work on Ys.
Having sporadically debuted new songs at her concerts since the fall of 2007, on March 28, 2009, Newsom performed over two hours of new material at a "secret" concert in Big Sur, California with fellow Nevada City singer-songwriter Mariee Sioux, under the pseudonym The Beatles's. Those in attendance reported that about one-third of her new material was played primarily on piano, with a backing arrangement of banjo, violin, guitar and drums.
Several of the songs on The Milk-Eyed Mender have been covered by her peers: "Bridges and Balloons" was covered by the Decemberists on their 2005 EP Picaresqueties. "Sprout and the Bean" has been covered by The Moscow Coup Attempt and Sholi. "Peach Plum Pear" has been covered by Final Fantasy (Owen Pallett) on the 2006 EP Young Canadian Mothers, as well as by Straylight Run. M Ward has played "Sadie" on his live shows.
Although her harp playing is not completely divorced from conventional harp techniques, she considers her style distinct from that of classically focused harpists. For instance, she has been strongly influenced by polyrhythms, used by West African kora players. Her harp teacher, Diana Stork, taught her the basic pattern of four beats against three, which creates an interlocking, shifting pattern that can be heard on Ys, particularly in the middle section of "Sawdust & Diamonds."
The media have sometimes labeled her as one of the most prominent members of the modern psych folk movement, although she does not acknowledge ties to any particular musical scene. Her songwriting incorporates elements of Appalachian music, avant-garde modernism, and African kora rhythms.
Newsom's vocal style (in the November 2006 issue of The Wire she described her voice as "untrainable") has shadings of folk and Appalachian shaped-note timbres. Newsom has, however, expressed disappointment at comments that her singing is "child-like."
- Early unofficial recordings
- Contributions on compilations
- The Golden Apples of the Sun (Bastet, 2004) With the song "Bridges and Balloons" (Originally released on The Milk-Eyed Mender)
- Bands, Collaborations and Guest Appearances
- Golden Shoulders - Let My Burden Be (Doppler, 2002)
- The Pleased - One Piece From The Middle (self-released, 2002)
- The Pleased - Don't Make Things (Big Wheel Recreation, 2003)
- Nervous Cop - Nervous Cop (5 Rue Christine, 2003)
- Vetiver - Vetiver (Dicristina Stair, 2004)
- Smog - A River Ain't Too Much To Love (Drag City, 2005)
- Vashti Bunyan - Lookaftering (Fat Cat Records, 2005)
- RF & Lili De La Mora - 'Eleven Continents' (Rowing At Sea / Time Release Records, 2007)
- Moore Brothers - 'Aptos' (American Dust, 2009)
Licensing of songs
- In 2004, "Peach, Plum, Pear" played over the credits of the animated short City Paradise.
- In 2004, "This Side of the Blue" was used on a British television commercial for Orange SA.
- In 2006, Newsom's song "Sprout and the Bean" was featured in a Melbourne tourism commercial.
- In 2007, "Clam, Crab, Cockle, Cowrie" was used in the PBS documentary Following Sean.
- In 2007, "Clam, Crab, Cockle, Cowrie" was sung by an aspiring musician in the film Great World of Sound.
- In 2008, "Sprout and the Bean" was featured in the film The Strangers.
- In 2008, "Clam, Crab, Cockle, Cowrie" was used in a television commercial for HSBC.
- In 2008, "The Book of Right-On" was used in a MTV ad for sexual care and education.
- In 2009, "The Book of Right-On" was licensed for the end credits of the Mexican/Italian film The Best of Feelings
- In 2009, "Sprout and the Bean" was used in a Victoria's Secret Bra commercial.
- In 2009, the harp intro of "Cosmia" was used in the Louis Theroux documentary "A Place for Paedophiles."
Biography from Wikipedia