The Throwing Muses & Kristin Hersh have both released albums on the same day. But, is...
Sue Keogh 2003
Kristin Hersh's last solo album, 2001's Sunny Border Blue, dealt with her agony at the break up of her band, The Throwing Muses. "How'd I trust a band who'd leave me one by one?" she whispered. Seven years on since their last record, Limbo, to widespread relief the 4AD favourites have regrouped and are ready to make the next step in their seventeen year career.
Their new album Throwing Muses sees Hersh reunited with long-time bassist Bernard Georges and original band member David Narcizo. Also back in the studio for the first time since 1991's classic The Real Ramona is Hersh's half sister, Belly founder and original Muse, Tanya Donelly, who adds guest vocals on a number of tracks.
The result is everything you want from a great Throwing Muses album; ferocious drumming, volatile time signatures and searing electric guitars, with Hersh's alternately sweet and hellish vocal over the top ("I'm so mad I could spit", that kind of thing). It's rowdy, powerful and full of enthusiasm for the task in hand.
Hitting the shops on the same day is Hersh's new solo album, The Grotto. As the writer of the material on both works, releasing them together allowed her to exorcise a stack of musical demons in one go. She commented that, "the contrast of the hard, fast, raw Muses record and an acoustic, bare, ambient solo record seemed complimentary". She's right. Where Throwing Muses is hectic and exuberant, The Grotto is stark and very beautiful.
With Hersh's sparse acoustic guitar accompanied simply by piano (from Giant Sand's Howe Gelb) and violin (ex-Squirrel Nut Zipper Andrew Bird), it is a delicate piece, a subdued sister to her two previous acoustic solo works, Hips And Makers (1994) and Strange Angels (1999). As ever we are drawn into her dark and dizzy world, populated by snowmobiles, sheepish smiles and bottle green skies. Relationships strain for perfection: "You were good/ You were kind/ You were drunk all the time/ But never drunk enough".
The standout track is "Arnica Montana", which builds to a slow crescendo of urgent strumming matched by dignified violin and a gorgeously bawdy piano crashing around in the background.
Special mention must be made of the packaging. Both are adorned by 4AD and Hersh favourite Shinro Ohtake; The Grotto is suitably dark, whereas the Throwing Muses cover is a beautiful explosion of reds and blues on six textured fold-out panels. Lovely stuff.