PJ Harvey & John Parish | A Woman A Man Walked By (Universal/Island)

cd_pj-harvey.jpgThe album truly does sound like two musical peers sharing snippets of lyrics and melodies over several years.







Let’s dispense with the obvious: "Black Heart Love" is easily the catchiest song that PJ Harvey has produced since the entire effort known as Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea. Harvey and her cohort John Parish (he the music, she the words) have melded a lovely tune that sticks in your head. Could be that elongated way Harvey sings "when" or the line, "When you call out my name in rapture/ I volunteer my soul for murder." The song is catchy and, more importantly, well written. It is so hard these days to write something accessible without resorting to trite Nickelback effects that are calculated to have you throwing rock fingers in an arena.

The album zigzags after that first song, though not in a bad way. You could call the album inconsistent, but only to point out its many inspirations. Think of it the same way people describe the Beatles’ self-titled album (otherwise known as the White Album): a joyous romp through musical passion and poetic inspiration. Of the songs on the album, no two are alike; no two seem to share even the same writing session. The album truly does sound like two musical peers sharing snippets of lyrics and melodies over several years.

Which is exactly what it is. Harvey and Parish produced Dance Hall at Louse Point in 1996. The two, always close collaborators (Parish often shows up on PJ Harvey albums), continued to share musical inspiration over the last decade until Harvey suggested a follow-up. Where Louse Point was, to put it mildly, dark as shit (the high point was a remake of "Is That All There Is?"), A Woman A Man Walked By reveals some balance, some sense of humor; it is always riveting, even if it gets in your face like some screechy hellion who has just burst out of a casino bar at 4 a.m. I do find of the two releases that the first was somewhat less genre-jumpy (though both seem to be related in their frantic reach).

It is hard to write about this album without noting that I first heard several of the songs live at SXSW. It is hard to picture them otherwise but delivered by a tiny woman in a wedding gown…or, equally defining, their appearance a few nights later on the Tonight Show, which found Harvey dancing like an out-of-control native. The two distinctly opposite performances (there was no dancing per se at SXSW) bring up the contrasts on the album. Harvey and Parish have not created an album of one set mood, but of flowing emotions that tend to bleed every which way.

A friend had said how much he feared this new album in that he immediately liked it. My reaction was virtually the same: I was charmed by the voices on the album. Harvey is a versatile singer; even when she is delivering words that don’t comfortably fit the bed Parish has constructed—such as "The Soldier" or her screeching rant "Pig Will Not"—they still prove utterly intriguing. Then there is something so breathtaking as the title track (which is paired with "The Crow Knows Where All the Little Children Go"), and you can clearly see where the duo excels. Who else makes music like this? Who could get away with this? Who can make it sound so good and so riveting? Harvey shines and comes across as a bad-ass who makes you pay attention; at the end of the song’s 4 minutes and 47 seconds, you have been pushed, pulled and wiped clean. Great music.

My first impression of the album (and hopefully my friend’s as well) proves correct: This is one of Harvey’s best. Certainly one of the two best from the team of John Parish and Polly Jean Harvey. A triumph of inconsistency. A | Jim Dunn

About Jim Dunn 126 Articles
Jim Dunn grew up in NY in the 70s and 80s. Even though that time in music really shapes his appreciation it does not define it. Music, like his beloved history is a long intermingled path that grows, builds and steals from its past. He lives in Colorado with his lovely wife and a wild bunch of animals.

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