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Album Review

Harvey and Parish: an eclectic pairing

March 30, 2009
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Indie Rock
PJ Harvey and John Parish A Woman, a Man Walked By
Island
ESSENTIAL "A Woman, A Man Walked By"

Longtime collaborators Polly Jean Harvey and John Parish make for strange bedfellows. She's the indie rock firebrand beloved for her singular vision since the early 1990s; he's her mentor, more known for his behind-the-scenes work as a producer than for his own albums.

The music they make together retains the essence of their individual talents, yet it sounds like the work of a wholly different band. Harvey sings and writes the lyrics, while Parish helms the production and composes the music and arrangements.

On "A Woman, A Man Walked By," they create a world both beautiful and depraved, an unhinged record heavy on heartache and bristling with aggression. And that's just the opening song, "Black Hearted Love," where Harvey's languid voice floats above the crash and clang of Parish's electric-guitar squall.

The new album comes more than 12 years after their first and only other joint venture, "Dance Hall at Louse Point," but bears little resemblance to it. This one falls squarely in line with Harvey's eclectic discography, marking a return to gutter rock after the piano atmospherics of 2007's "White Chalk."

Parish's arrangements are particularly lean and taut here, from minor-chord banjo on "Sixteen, Fifteen, Fourteen" to the austere ukulele and piano melodies that haunt "The Soldier." Harvey matches him in a wild array of different vocal shades, with her shrill yelps summoning the spirit of performance artist Karen Finley on the title track. And a spoken-word recitation on "Cracks in the Canvas" closes the album on an elegiac note with Harvey intoning: "Cracks in the canvas look like roads that never end." (Out tomorrow) JAMES REED

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