P. J. Harvey & John Parish – [Album]

Saturday, 13 June 2009

Thirteen years ago, while she was riding high on the mass acclaim that Rid Of Me and To Bring You My Love afforded her, Polly Jean Harvey exerted a little creative freedom and knocked out the raw, rough-hewn Dance Hall At Louse Point with John Parish. That album was a revelation; still angry and still emotionally injured, Harvey showed that she was still vulnerable too and, amid a much softer, more homegrown backdrop, proved that she was still be all of those things but also be romantic and even lovable. Of course, as soon as it was out and Harvey finished the touring to promote the album with Parish, she immediately dove back into her solo work and has since cultivated new forms of abuse and alienation for herself, but Dance Hall has endured and achieved a sort of cult status in the singer's body of work; so much so that there has been a lingering hope ever since that the duo might do it again.

As A Woman A Man Walked By proves, sometimes the number thirteen isn't so unlucky after all.

Warm and remarkably soft like an old sweater, A Woman A Man Walked By eases in with “Black Hearted Love” so smoothly that it doesn't so much send shivers up the collective spine of those listening so much as make them sigh with an overwhelming sense of relief and comfort. Parish successfully manages to smooth out all of the creases and cap the live wires that typically tend to short out Harvey's songs in that track and, instead, what listeners get is the aural equivalent to Southern Comfort mixed with molasses; a slow but sweet and methodical movement that seeks to present beauty over all else. There is melancholy in Harvey's vocals, but the music is sympathetic and soothes it rather than stirring it up to make it seem ominous and that trend continues through “Sixteen, Fifteen, Fourteen,” “Leaving California” and “The Chair.” The results are disarmingly beautiful and both players seem to relax into the borrowed Southern gothic strains so easily that it's impossible not to want to follow them and, while the epic, multi-movement title track tries to derail that vibe by letting Harvey indulge her own excess, it doesn't last long and instantly resumes the examination of the of the small, simple pleasures on “The Soldier.” As beautiful as it is, there is an obvious conflict at work (check “Pig Will Not”) but listeners find themselves hoping that vibe doesn't take dominance over the delicacy of the earlier songs and they discover to their joy that it does not as “Passionless, Pointless” and “Cracks In The Canvas” usher the album out. For two songwriters that have built careers on unhappiness, frustration and anger, such a turn is remarkable – but there's no arguing that it's welcome too.

All of which begs the question, “Why?” Why did it take so long for history to repeat itself? Listeners won't care in the slightest; with such uncharacteristic sweetness to listen to, over-analysis is pointless. A Woman A Man Walked By is the sort of album a listener inhabits, rides and restarts because they'll want to relive the beauty over and over.


John Parish online

P. J. Harvey online
P. J. Harvey myspace


A Woman A Man Walked By
is out now and available here on Amazon .

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