Don’t get into a fight with a songwriter unless you’re also a singer, warns Kristin Hersh, because otherwise they’re always going to have the last word.
Then again, if the result of the dispute was as haunting as ‘Sno Cat’ you probably wouldn’t mind.
Remarkable for its sadness in a set of heightened melancholy, it seeks to cleanse and forgive rather than languish in rage. In this context ‘Your Ghost’, the solo gig’s most well-known track, is rendered forlorn rather than darkly magical when accompanied by just a sparky electric guitar.
The mood of this material creates modern gothic folk-blues that offers beauty in its impressionistic landscapes, where plastic deer and garbage cans coexist with lemons and snow.
It’s a place where the detritus of low culture is afforded as much value as nature; a place that finds voice in the short essays she reads that help to illuminate selected songs with their Southern American humility and gentle humour.
A similar musical landscape is found in the work of the late Vic Chesnutt, who she covers on ‘Bakersfield’, and which informs the folk terrain as much as her readings of traditional songs ‘Poor Wayfaring Stranger’ and ‘Cuckoo’.
Just as these tracks often mask gruesome intentions, Hersh’s material is as pretty as it is otherworldly and emotionally ugly. ‘Your Dirty Answer’, for instance, seethes with angry confusion as her voice grows hoarse and rasping. Likewise the relatively up-tempo ‘Summer Salt’ broods unnervingly with her vibrato and thousand yard stare.
If these tracks have moved away from the country-punk of Throwing Muses, the cult band she formed when still a teenager, then the more bluesy influences befit her voice as it’s deepened from its youthful shrillness. ‘City Of The Dead’ and ‘Mississippi Kite’, especially, bring a world-weariness borne of harsh experience.
The songs may have got sadder and the arrangements more conventional over the years but she’s lost none of her unique ability to connect with the audience and to make them feel understood.