Kristin Hersh releases "Strange Angels", her second solo album...
"Strange angels made this planet glow" -- Shake
When you first hear the most lethal combinations of voice and acoustic guitar -- Woody Guthrie, Neil Young, Nick Drake -- it's not the simplicity but the richness of what they do that bowls you over. This rare ability to put across something almost symphonically complex within a framework that's stark to the point of brutality is one that Kristin Hersh has too. That's how her second solo album "Strange Angels" -- the long-awaited follow-up to 1994's superb "Hips And Makers" -- comes to be pristine and jagged, abrasive and tender.
So much has changed in the past four years. Throwing Muses, the band Kristin led for half her life, broke up in April of 1997. "We had to end ourselves," Hersh says philosophically. "It was very much against our will, and it still kind of aches, but when it stops feeding your kids you've gotta go and get another job." Or the same job, just under your own name. It would not be disrespectful to the Muses' memory to say that it was always Kristin's songs that people were listening for. And it was her almost pathological modesty that insisted on the band-ness of the whole thing when it was the Kristin-ness that people wanted.
On "Strange Angels", the Kristin-ness is triumphantly to the forefront. While "Hips And Makers", now affectionately characterized by its author as "very minor key mountain girl," leavened its haunting laments and proud declarations with swathes of additional cello and the odd Michael Stipe guest vocal, the new album is propelled by the absence of such distractions. Recorded at Stable Sound in Portsmouth, Rhode Island (where HIPS was made) and at the LA studio of fellow songwriter Joe Henry, it is sparser than its illustrious predecessor, but at the same time notably more upbeat. "With "Hips And Makers", I just pretended I knew how to make an acoustic record and there it was," Kristin remembers. "This time everything seems a little more intricate and self-assured."
"Chinese food and your sleeping back, we're born again losers, it's funny. Honey, you know this is not so bad, hanging around wired for sound. It's funny and sad and it's true, I 'm aching for you." -- Aching For You
The fifteen songs on "Strange Angels" could almost be one, they fly so fast, so seamlessly one to the other, but focus on them individually and each has its own distinctive character. "Like You" is Abba's "Super Trooper" rearranged for a hillbilly lynch mob; "Cold Water Coming" is breath freezing as it leaves your mouth on a misty mountain morning; and "Rock Candy Brains" is a gleeful back-porch hoe-down in a whirl of sarcastic gingham.
This is the work of someone who realized that playing without a band is a challenge not a cop-out. Kristin Hersh has a long history with the lone voice and guitar ideal, and her songwriting shines in stripped down environs like these. Her songs are everyday poems sprung from a life filled with kids, a husband, a house to play in, a dog to feed, dinner to make. They are also romantic odes, gleeful and dreamy, spoken from the mouth of a thirty-one year old mother of three who still knows what's what and what's funny -- get kicked in the stomach by a baby just once and the world makes real sense.
"Use me I get stronger, I get weaker when you treat me like a queen." -- Stained
"I wish I could say I made myself a cup of coffee, put on my lucky bathrobe and sat down at the piano with my rhyming dictionary," Kristin says with a smile, "but that's not the way my songs happen. They walk in the room of their own accord." She talks about her songs as if they have needs of their own: wouldn't that begin to get on a person's nerves after a decade and a half tending to their requirements? "Sometimes it does, but usually you don't have the ego to have nerves. When you're concerning yourself with a whole other being -- whether that be a song or a child -- your job is to serve."
Another thing that's changed since 1994 is the status of the female singer-songwriter -- if not an endangered species, at least on the protected list at the time of Kristin's first solo album. With the airwaves currently all but overrun with the female graduates of the school of corporate narcissism, Hersh's scourging and unaffected talent now comes as a vital corrective. "They may think that stuff isn't barbie doll, but it is," she says worriedly, "It's Dysfunctional Barbie. And it's very scary for women -- and men -- of all ages to be seeing that as the face of womankind, because we aren't like that. We're 3D: we're broken and we're fixed and we're aware of our goofiness."
Newly installed (with husband Billy and children Dylan, 11, Ryder, 6, and Wyatt,1) in a desert dream house, Kristin is as far away from the arid vacuities of the music business as she could possibly wish. Where is the house exactly? "It's in the California high desert, near Joshua Tree National Park. It's not like the desert you're used to seeing pictures of... It's like a white trash moon with huge rock piles and mountains full of coyotes and snakes and owls and roadrunners..." Does Gram Parsons' ghost come to dinner? "No, but everybody else does."
"Strange Angels" tracklisting:
Home Like You Aching For You Cold Water Coming Some Catch Flies Stained Shake Hope Pale Baseball Field Heaven Gazebo Tree Gut Pageant Rock Candy Brains Cartoons
"Strange Angels" from Kristin Hersh is released on February 2nd in the UK by 4AD on compact disc CAD8003CD and on February 3rd in the US and Canada by Throwing Music/Rykodisc on compact disc RCD10429.
In addition to Kristin's appearance at The Gavin Convention during the week of release, there will be extensive US tour dates beginning in April and running through the Fall. Watch for in-store appearances from Kristin as well.
Do you live in the US and want a nifty cassette sampler for "Strange Angels"?? Go here http://www.rykodisc.com/3/features/kh/cassette.html for more information.
There is a limited edition version of "Strange Angels" available from Rykodisc and available only via mail order before the release date. You can get the limited edition with the spiffy embossed booklet and an autographed poster only if you order direct from Rykodisc/Earful. Go here http://www.rykodisc.com/3/features/kh/khorder.html for details.
All songs written by Kristin Hersh and published by Yes Dear Music (BMI) administered by Bug Music. Produced by Kristin Hersh. Co-produced by Joe Henry except "Like You" co-produced by Steve Rizzo. Recorded by Joe Henry and Steve Rizzo. Executive producer: Ivo Watts-Russell. Special thanks to Geoff, Carla Sacks, Collings Guitars, Melanie, Mark Leahy, Eric and Nancy, David Narcizo, Lakuna, Exene, Bill Newell, Tine, Chris and Tricia, Janine Natter, Karen Pals, Sergio and Leroy. Management: Billy O'Connell and Geoff Trump. Strange Agents: Jonathan Levine at Monterey Peninsula Artists and Jeff Craft at Fair Warning/Wasted Talent. Kristin Hersh plays Collings Guitars. Big thanks to Stephen Coyne at The Rockport Company. Design: Vaughan Oliver at v23. Photography: John Patrick Salisbury. Artwork: Shinro Ohtake. "Strange Angels" is for Billy, Dylan, Ryder, Wyatt and TM (1984-97).
Thanks to Peter at Outside Music, Kristin's Canadian distributor, for providing help and information about "Strange Angels".
JEFF KEIBEL TORONTO, ONTARIO CANADA