PJ Harvery & John Parish

June 29, 2009 § Leave a comment

Publsihed: Music Australia Guide #64, April 2009.

PJ Harvey & John Parish
A Woman A Man Walk By
****
(Island/Universal)

There’s something incredibly seductive about A Woman A Man Walk By, Polly Jean Harvey’s first musical collaboration with instrumentalist John Parish since 1996’s Dance Hall at Louse Point. It’s as if the curtains to her world have been pulled back a little; as we’ve jimmied open a window to her studio, caught a glimpse of a kind of unadorned essence, its jagged edges yet to be sanded back. We hear gentle, wraithlike coos, whispered mutterings, full-bodied, pitch-perfect notes. We hear screams and hollers and barks. According to the liner notes the collaboration with Parish was without plans or expectations and it sounds that way. But while this ad-hoc quality might not wash in a different context, it pays dividends on A Woman A Man. Much of the credit has to go to Parish. His arrangements span sensuous blues-rock (see opener Black Hearted Love), spindly, mist-shrouded folk (Leaving California) and ear-bleeding dissonance is if they were meant to be. But it’s still Harvey, and her bizarre balancing act, that is the main attraction. On the one side her lyrics have her bereft and confused. On the she counterpunches with a delivery so effusive, so cocky and wild that she never once exudes vulnerability or defeat. The noise attack of Pig Will Not has her woofing like a dog. While Harvey has always rejected the idea of art as diaristic, it seems that with every release we find ourselves closer and closer to the heart of this strange, enthralling musical specimen.

Dan Rule

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