Kristin Hersh has the most beautifully damaged voice in rock. Her nicotine stained rasp smears lyrics about hyper-chlorinated pools of humanity and sunburned snow. It’s a copper radiator in a building full of baseboard heat, of creosote rails laid just before the final spike. Crooked, her newest solo album continues her string of unimpeachable triumphs with ten songs that draw from her past yet sound entirely of the moment.
Songs like “Moan,” “Glass” and “Coals” exterminate her mental moths by setting fire to the living room. Kristin, her acoustic guitar, some tambourine, and snare; she has toured for years now with her minimalist accompaniment and she’s clearly comfortable with the arrangement. It’s a very well produced album, polished like 2007s Learn to Sing Like a Star. The fadeout for “Coals” is one of the prettiest things she has ever done. Her lyrics slip between first and third-person. They’re broad, lovely songs about love’s daily realities.
With each successive album, she seems more in control of her craft, her lyrics more guarded companions than upsetting strangers. On “Glass” she asks “why put the light on at all?” After nine solo albums she still isn’t sure, but she sounds grateful to have the opportunity. What frequently goes unremarked is how funny she can be. “Fortune’s” lyrics detail an imbalanced relationship, and a man whose economic toll is as large as his shadow. She remains a singular voice for a particular brand of independent American womanhood, tight-lipped, but smiling.
If you’ve given Hersh head space in the past and have shared utilities, Crooked will add as a strong contender to ongoing debates over best solo album. I’m still going with her 2001 record Sunny Border Blue. That album was gritty, tense and more wounded than this. Throwing Muses emerged so well-formed that she has never had to completely reinvent or disavow any part of her band’s earlier sound, so Kristin’s solo albums are small reinventions that change with the pace of an ordinary life given extraordinary talent for interpreting its surroundings through a uniquely fractured perspective. Her burning engines sputter, crash, but don’t land.
Throwing Muses – University
PJ Harvey – White Chalk
Cat Power – Moon Pix