Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 4/25/09.
Already beloved by critics and a devoted following since the early 90s, PJ Harvey remains one of rock's most enduring artists. 2007's White Chalk was a departure from her other work yet was acclaimed for its stripped-down, experimental sound that showed her versatility and range. Involved in co-producing the record with her was her longtime friend and collaborator John Parish whom she made an album with in 1996 entitled Dance Hall at Louse Point. Parish's contributions to White Chalk prompted Harvey to make another album with Parish that is more upbeat in contrast to her last album as well as something more accessible than their last collaboration.
Produced by PJ Harvey, John Parish, and Flood, A Woman A Man Walked By is an album by Harvey and Parish that recalls Parish's art-rock sound. With Parish writing the music and performing most of it while Harvey sings and does all of the lyrics. The record is a more accessible album than Dance Hall at Louse Point with more folk-rock influences and styles recalling Harvey's early work. With songs delving into many lyrical themes, it's a record that is both adventurous as well as melodic. The result is a winning collaboration from PJ Harvey and John Parish.
The album's opening track and first single is bouncy rocker Black Hearted Love filled with bopping rhythms and John Parish's smooth, wailing guitar. With PJ Harvey's calm, wailing vocals filled with lyrics about a dark love filled with eerie references to murder, it's a smooth, simple song that is led by Parish' bouncy arrangements and shimmering guitar work. Sixteen, Fifteen, Fourteen is a foot-stomping, folky track with washy acoustic and banjo track with pounding beats and Harvey's raspy, bluesy vocals. With Parish's stripped-down arrangements with intense bass lines and Harvey's esoteric, fearful lyrics, it's a song that plays with its structure while maintaining a folk sound with bits of electric guitar. Leaving California is another folk-inspired track with tingling pianos, washy blues riffs on acoustic-electric guitars, and Harvey's high-pitch vocals. With lyrics about the beauty of California, it's a wonderful, atmospheric song that is captured by its production.
The Chair is a song with a smooth, sputtering beat with flourishing pianos and growling guitar spurts. With Harvey's wavy vocals filled with nostalgic lyrics and longing, it's a song that plays to a sense of atmosphere with arrangements that are unconventional in its performance and instrumentation. April is a mid-tempo ballad filled with slow beats, smooth organs, and Harvey's soft, raspy vocals. With its dark, desperate lyrics filled with themes of death, it's a song that plays to a somber presentation led by Harvey's vocal range that delve into its emotive quality. A Woman A Man Walked By/The Crow Knows Where All The Little Children Go starts off as an acoustic-blues track with upbeat, grinding riffs with Harvey's playful lyrics with a whimsical vocal style. With growling vocals, the song goes into a rumbling, pounding intensity as Harvey plays the mean blueswoman as she is accompanied by a wavy string arrangement. With tingling pianos flourishes, the song becomes a different track with its vibrant, shimmering rhythm with blaring horns and guitars.
The Soldiers is a folky ballad led by Parish playing a mandolin accompaniment to Harvey's soft, raspy vocals. With its melancholic lyrics, it's a song that recalls the old folk ballads of the mid-20th Century with a hollow, tingling piano accompaniment as well as a harmonium. Pig Will Not is a punk-inspired song recalling Harvey's early work with growling vocals and hard-hitting, rollicking rhythms led by Parish' grinding guitar. With an organ accompaniment, Harvey sings punk-like vocals with a snarl that is all about performance and anger. Passionless, Pointless is a lush, soothing ballad with washy, jangly guitar riffs and wavy flute-like tracks that accompany Harvey's smooth, wailing vocals. With its dreamy lyrics and Parish's melodic-flourishing arrangements, it's a song that is about atmosphere due to its superb production and Harvey's haunting vocals. The album closer Cracks In The Canvas is a tender ballad with soft, choral-like organs and melodic ukelele plucks. With Harvey's calm, somber vocals and decaying lyrics with washy guitars provide a fitting close to the album.
While it doesn't have the consistency of some of PJ Harvey's more well-known and revered albums, A Woman A Man Walked By is still a fascinating yet versatile record from Harvey and collaborator John Parish. Thanks to a more layered and atmospheric production with versatile styles, it's a record that is far superior than their last collaboration nearly 13 years ago. Fans of PJ Harvey will no doubt enjoy this record to hear the woman sound like she's having fun while giving some great attention to the brilliance of John Parish. In the end, A Woman A Man Walked By is a superb album from PJ Harvey and John Parish.
PJ Harvey Reviews: Dry - Rid of Me - 4-Track Demos - To Bring You My Love - Dance Hall at Louse Point (w/ John Parish) - Is This Desire? - Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea - Uh Huh Her The Peel Sessions 1991-2004 - White Chalk - Let England Shake
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