Friday, March 4, 2011

PJ Harvey-The Peel Sessions 1991-2004

Originally Written and Posted at on 4/23/09.

Of the rock disc jockeys to come into the world, none were as revered as John Peel for the BBC. Peel's emphasis to discover new bands, especially in the punk rock movement helped expose British audiences to new worlds while being honest about his ideas on the mainstream. To many young musicians, John Peel was the person to go to in hopes of getting heard on the radio or be exposed to audiences who had never heard of them. When John Peel suddenly died of a heart attack on October 25, 2004, the world of British music lost one of its unsung heroes. One of the artists whose career benefitted from Peel's unwavering support was PJ Harvey who compiled a collection of some of her best performance from her sessions for John Peel entitled The Peel Sessions 1991-2004.

The record is a compilation of Harvey's career from her early beginnings to a tribute performance she gave to the renowned disc jockey. Featuring four different sessions plus a tribute performance weeks after his passing. The album features deep cuts from studio albums plus rarities and cover songs as it's a record that doesn't really have a lot of hits nor any other big songs. The result is a well-compiled record that serves as a fitting tribute to the late John Peel.

The first four tracks which features Harvey's old trio that included bassist Steve Vaughn and drummer Rob Ellis. From the September 29, 1991 Peel session are four tracks that would later appear in PJ Harvey's 1992 debut album Dry. First is Oh My Lover, the desperate love song led by Steve Vaughn's sturdy bass line and Rob Ellis' slow, hollow beats. With Harvey's washy guitar and wailing vocals with smooth, pounding rhythms, it's one of Harvey's great songs. Victory is a mid-tempo song led by Vaughn's twangy bass line and Ellis' rumbling bass beats with bouncy rhythms that is led by Harvey's washy guitar riffs, wailing vocals, and sneering lyrics. The famed single Sheela-Na-Gig with its bouncy rhythms, washy punk riffs, and Harvey's calm vocals with sexy, dirty lyrics is shown in a simple yet rollicking performance. The last track of the session is Water with is smooth, bouncy rhythm and melodic-washy guitars with Harvey's wailing vocals with powerful lyrics as she delves into a sexual maniac.

From the March 2, 1993 session are two tracks which are essentially rarities that either appeared as B-sides or soundtrack material which also features Vaughn and Ellis performing. First is Naked Cousin, a song that would later appear in the soundtrack to The Crow: City of Angels. With its blistering, rumbling beats from Ellis, wailing keyboards, and crunching guitars from Harvey, it's a song has Harvey singing in a wailing, bluesy vocal with dark lyrics about death. It's one of Harvey's best rarities featuring a great vocal in the song's chorus along with some growling guitar riffs. Next is a cover of Willie Dixon's Wang Dang Doodle, a B-side from the Man-Size single. With its melodic, funky riff and smooth, sputtering rhythms, Harvey goes to a growling, bluesy vocal with wailing falsetto to emphasize on the sexiness of the song.

From the September 5, 1996 session are three tracks from two different periods in which Harvey performs by herself. The first is a cover of Rainer Ptacek's Losing Ground from the That Was My Veil single. With its fast, crunching guitar riff, it's a song where Harvey sings in a calm, playful manner to the song with her vocals with its abstract, weird lyrics. Next is Snake from Rid of Me, the angry song with Harvey's wailing vocal with swift, driving guitar riffs that exemplifies Harvey's love for punk-rock and grunge with growling riffs coming later in the song. That Was My Veil from the Dance Hall at Louse Point album with John Parish is an acoustic ballad filled with Harvey singing in a somber vocal style with melancholic vocals that features a keyboard solo in the background. Especially in an intimate setting as she performs with just an acoustic guitar and a keyboard.

From the November 10, 2000 session are two tracks from her acclaimed 2000 release Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea. First is the U.K./Japanese bonus track This Wicked Tongue, a sinister song with growling guitar riffs as Harvey sings in a hollow vocal style with Rob Ellis' thumping beats. With its dark, mean lyrics, it's a song with an intense performance that features soft, swirling guitars that play up to Harvey's angry energy. Beautiful Feeling is a soothing, atmospheric ballad led by Harvey's calm, somber vocals with dreamy lyrics as she is accompanied by a piano and a washy guitar during the performance. The last track on the record is from a December 16, 2004 BBC tribute performance for the late John Peel in You Came Through from Uh Huh Her. Performing to a live audience with just a swift, electric guitar strum, Harvey sings the somber ballad with her smooth, wailing vocals as she's accompanied by an acoustic and tapping percussions. Harvey's simple, emotive vocals is the highlight of the record as it's a fitting closer and tribute to John Peel.

While the record doesn't have all of the material PJ Harvey has done for John Peel in numerous BBC sessions. It's still a fascinating record that features rare performances that fans can collect who missed them the first time around. While the material Harvey selected is definitely excellent, it's a record that's really more about how much John Peel meant to her and other artists. In the end, The Peel Sessions 1991-2004 is an excellent album from PJ Harvey that pays tribute to the late, great John Peel.

(C) thevoid99 2011

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