March 31, 2009 marked the release of British songstress PJ Harvey’s second collaboration with producer John Parish, A Woman, A Man Walked By. Recorded in Bristol and Dorset, England, the record delves deep into Harvey’s psyche, 12 years after she and Parish’ first collaboration, Dance Hall At Louise Point. The overall sound resembles Harvey’s early material more than anything else. In fact, Billboard.com wrote,
“A Woman, A Man Walked By is more like the Harvey of old than 2007’s ‘White Chalk.’ She sighs and croons and rasps her way through Parish’s twisted folk landscape, jabbing at an eternally disappointing lover with renewed ferocity and fresh heartbreak. Such a musical mind-meld, so expressive of both artists’ perspective, is rare.”
The Boston Globe also reviewed the recording saying, “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.’”
It has been a while since Harvey and Parish put their creative minds to work on the same project, but the pairing seems to have brought out the best in both artists. The record celebrates Harvey’s unique vocals while still maintaining Parish’s propensity for subtlety. The Boston Globe went on to say,
“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 Boston Globe also wrote,
“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.”
The raw intensity and brash lyrics of A Woman, A Man Walked By prove PJ Harvey’s, “still not a girl to take home to Mama” but a trip through her subconscious is anything but ordinary (RollingStone.com).
Standouts on A Woman include the opening track “Black Hearted Love” which, “finds Harvey delivering the brooding, disturbing vocal beauty she’s know for.” (Spin.com) “Passionless, Pointless” also shines. DrownedInSound said the track “finds as poignant a pay off as [Harvey’s] ever written: ‘you slept facing the wall, and you wanted less than I wanted.’”
Not every track on A Woman was well received, however. PasteMagazine.com criticized Harvey’s vocal on “The Chair,” saying, “she sounds like she’s falling down a well.” And they don’t stop there. The indie-mag goes on to write, ”on A Woman as a whole, she sounds as though she’s far less inspired than she was on her previous disc, White Chalk, a work of bone-chilling intimacy. This new one is both harder to love and harder to fathom.”
Although many seem to have gotten lost in Harvey and Parish’s interestingly haunting hooks and odd lyrics, I find it hard to concentrate on anything while she literally barks, and snarls her way through each song. The artistic integrity is there, but it just doesn’t translate as well as one would hope. Fans of classic Harvey should definitely check out the new release but newcomers may find themselves wanting more with this record.
You can preview tunes from the record on Harvey’s MySpace, or go straight to iTunes and check out the record for yourself.