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Woman a Man Walked By
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2009 collaboration from Alt-Rock favorite PJ Harvey and producer/composer John Parish. The album was recorded in Bristol and Dorset, and mixed by Flood. A Woman A Man Walked By has been described by journalist John Harris as 'mischievous, deadly serious, elegant and poetic, and possessed of a brutal power: it is doubtful that you will hear a record as brimming with creative brio and musical invention this year'. A Woman A Man Walked By is the follow up to Harvey and Parish's previous collaboration Dance Hall At Louse Point. An accomplished producer and composer, John has recorded numerous soundtracks and has worked with artists including Eels and Giant Sand as well as Harvey. 10 tracks. Island.
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As before, Parish supplies the musical arrangements and Harvey the words, in that order - a division of labour which sometimes makes for an uncomfortable fit, as with "The Chair", a frantic, piano-led piece about drowning, and "Sixteen, Fifteen, Fourteen", about playing hide-and-seek, in which the opening banjo strums are bulked out with organ as the search gets more frantic.
Each piece draws a new persona out of her. In the company of her old colleague and confidant, she abandons herself to a diverse collection of vocal personae. On "April", her glottal, nicotine-rough delivery appears to be a homage to that other West Country vocal stylist, Portishead's Beth Gibbons.
For the adolescent hide-and-seek scenario of "Sixteen, Fifteen, Fourteen", she regresses to a breathless Celtic bawl.
"Pig Will Not", yelled through a megaphone, is built on her cacophonous howls of refusal - "I will not!" - over Parish's threshing drums
They sound like they are having a little more fun on this record, which Harvey has described as a transitional work, produced for kicks but crucial to her ongoing development as a musician. The results are far from throwaway, but there is the sense that "A Woman A Man Walked By" is a lucky bag of styles, tossed together without much thought for the cohesion that usually characterises Harvey's own albums, such as 2000's " Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea", and gives her something to rebel against for her next musical incarnation.
All in all, the results that makes A Woman Man Walks By such fun. From the childlike waltz of "Leaving California", to the cracked lo fi blues of "April", this is an album that challenges and cheers in equal measure.
"Together, Parish and Harvey sound confidently experimental, like two soldiers daring each other to ever more stupendous feats of bravery. Here's hoping this exploration continues to feed back into the work she produces under her own name, and that Parish gets his dues as one of Britain's most resourceful and imaginative studio craftsmen". -Rob Young.
Highlights: "Black Hearted Love", "A Man A Woman Walked By/The Crow Knows Where All The Little Children Go", "Leaving California".
Dance Hall at Louse Point
Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea
Officially this is very much a great collaboration of two like minded artists working in tandem, but for me, A Woman and A Man, is a PJ Harvey record, and one that is up there with her best work, kind of like the proper follow up the Is This Desire? I'm so happy to have the PJ Harvey I spent my teenage years idolizing back!
"Black Hearted Love" is a great rock anthem. Ranks among the very best of them. "Sixteen, Fifteen, Fourteen" is a great song with a strange melody and rhythm, that is one of my favorites. The title song is phenomenal. After PJ screams out some obscenities in a wonderful fashion, there is some real music. Like *really real* music. Not just entertainment crap. Finally, "Pig Will Not". Oh my God, what a great song! PJ actually barks like a dog, and her barks are so haunting that I often wake up at night hearing her "Woof, woof".
Thank you, PJ and John Parish for phenomenal listening experience! I have listened to the album probably more than 40 times now.
It was with this in mind that I was particularly excited for A Woman A Man Walked By, Harvey and Parrish's second joint album. At this point, Harvey and Parrish made their process clear - Parrish creates a composition, and Harvey uses her vast channeling powers to find a character and song that fits it. Maybe that's too much knowledge, because when I hear "Black Hearted Love," the song that opens the record, I hear a serviceable, competent song that I don't feel much from. In Dance Hall..., a desperation fueled their lunacy, and here, Harvey's got a craft behind her creative impulses that's undeniable, but it isn't quite as essential as it was 14 years ago. In songs like "The Chair," a beat wanders away while we're stuck with a half-minded Harvey babble about... a chair. "Leaving California" sounds like a halfhearted outtake from 2007's White Chalk, full of warbling falsetto but without that album's gothic confessionalism.
Still, I'm not quite willing to count out A Man A Woman Walked By, and it's because despite not being fueled by the same alchemizing misery, Harvey hasn't lost the spirit that makes her such an unpredictable force. One review I read of the record in Entertainment Weekly seized on the screaming "I Will Not" of "Pig Will Not" as being too "regressively adolescent," which I suspect Harvey would read as high praise. I read that as high praise - the song, which involves whooping and barking, is a blast of insolence. Much like "16, 15, 14" churns with an off-kilter acoustic guitar that segues into a blazing chorus, and "Passionless, Pointless," which is gorgeously sad. Beyond that, two songs make me think the Harvey I know and love is still going strong; there's "April," which sings in a warble so frail that when it segues into a gorgeous chorus, it feels intimate and wounding. It's the type of late-night song Harvey's always made me want to turn to. Finally, there's that extraordinary title track, a chant of cattiness and biting acoustic power chords that I can't get enough of - by the time she breaks loose in a vitriolic wail of "I want your f---ing a--!" you're wailing right along with her. It's only an artist still in full grip of her gifts that can inspire the same lunatic fist pounding.