Review by Matt H, SoundsXP

“I like to have a physical object” is what you often hear from the mp3 refuseniks, usually in defence of their latest vinyl purchase. It’s all well and good extolling the virtues of the LP, but Kristin Hersh has taken the idea that people are prepared to shell out for the physical object to add to the musical experience, but without bothering to include the recording.

Her latest album Crooked, comes in book form, with a none-too-secret code to get hold of the music itself (in mp3 yes, but other lossless formats too). And as an object it’s beautiful – a collection of flower photos, lyrics and short essays explaining each of the songs. Which more than meets the tactile loveliness of what we old fogies trumpet for a vinyl release. And taking the whole innovative revenue stream thing a few steps further, if you sign up as one of her “Strange Angels” for $30 a quarter, you get all releases and concert tickets thrown in as well. Or if you’re feeling really flush (and, erm, American) shell out a load more and you get trips to the recording studio and even credits on the CDs…

But all of this business stuff only counts if the music’s worth the candle. And it is. The reason that it’s not the selling point is simply because Kristin Hersh has made it all available anyway in its demo form, inviting remixes and reworkings from fans. She still has the final say, they are her songs after all (or, as she might put it, she’s their chosen route to the world). Too right too, she’s been at this for going on a quarter of a century and has quietly amassed an outstanding body of work. That her career lacks a huge number of stand-out moments only makes each new record all the more embraceable. Unlike most artists, where you tend to hanker after the way they were at the point that you discovered them, her latest record is almost always your favourite.

Harsher and more alive than any of the whippersnapper singer-songwriters that have blossomed (and often faded) in the meantime; there are no obvious basic differences between her solo songs and those with the Throwing Muses or 50 Foot Wave. Even if the style of interpretation might vary, there’s as much noise and quiet here as in any other incarnation. There’s also the same mournful tunefulness, the same clever phrasing and the same barely- or un-suppressed snarl and bite even when the emotions are gentle. In fact, following the rise of the acoustic hordes to dominate the airwaves, Kristin Hersh sounds more apart and vital than ever before.

And once you plug in your code there’s a couple of extra EPs to download; plenty of time to come to the conclusion that someone like Kristin Hersh might be worth that $30 a quarter investment. There’s few like her come along and fewer still stay the course. Here’s to another 20 years.