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PJ Harvey & John Parish A Woman A Man Walked By Review

Album. Released 2009.  

BBC Review

Please don't let this be the last of this partnership.

Chris Jones 2009

This collaboration with long-time musical pal John Parish has been touted as some kind of side project, but in many ways it's a major step in a career that refuses to lie down and play nicely. Whereas 2007's White Chalk had a monochrome bleakness that was far more stately, here Polly's up to more mischievous, anarchic stuff.

As Harvey herself says, her work should never be taken as anything approaching biographical. She adopts personas. For this we should be grateful. You probably wouldn't want to meet the character who on A Woman a Man Walked By / The Crow Knows Where All the Little Children Go, complains about the ''woman man'' who failed her having ''chicken liver balls'' before morphing into Nick Cave, grunting about wanting his ''f***ing ass''. The album still has the odd trace of more mainstream PJ. Black Hearted Love approaches the kind of stadium indie that she was capable of a few years back, but it's also the least satisfying track.

Bolstered by a wonderfully wayward mixing job by Flood, the album may be short on really memorable tunes but more than makes up for it in restless creativity. Overall it sounds like Harvey and Parish are having a whale of a time making wonky, folk blues pop, filled with rusty tin can moments and poetry. Parish's mandolin, mixed with the fever dream voices of Harvey on Sixteen, Fifteen, Fourteen combines dolls house surrealism and backwoods delta fire and brimstone. And who could resist that, eh?

Parish - responsible for the music here - constantly puts one on mind of those who have wrangled strings for Don Van Vliet (in fact he's helped out by the Captain's associate, Eric Drew Feldman on keyboards). Pig Will Not is a Beefheartian stop-start strop that pauses halfway through to leave the room and tinker around on some minimal piano.

It's this almost offhand ability to never sound precious about the results that makes A Woman Man Walks By such fun. From the childlike waltz of Leaving California, to the cracked lo fi blues of April, this is an album that challenges and cheers in equal measure. Please don't let this be the last of this partnership.

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