Kristin Hersh : Learn To Sing Like a Star

<a href=""><img src="" alt=" " /></a>It’s been four years since Kristin Hersh’s last solo album, <i>The Grotto</i>.<span>  </span>In the interval, she’d formed the harder-rock 50 Foot Wave (with Rob...
7.7 Yep Roc

 It’s been four years since Kristin Hersh’s last solo album, The Grotto.  In the interval, she’d formed the harder-rock 50 Foot Wave (with Rob Ahlers and fellow Throwing Muse Bernard Georges), and even experimented in free-to-download music (50 Foot’s aptly titled Free Music! EP).  But now Hersh has gone back to her alt-singer/songwriter mode, and while mostly a return to her prior form, Learn To Sing Like a Star does exhibit some influences from her sabbatical, as it edges away from the stripped-down, low-tempo alt-folk of earlier solo work, and keeps the raspier voice she’s had with 50 Foot Wave.

On Learn, Hersh has pretty well balanced guitar and orchestral strings.  Fully-facted:  sometimes the guitar takes precedence, sometimes the strings, sometimes both, and sometimes neither.  As opposed to the bare guitar picking of prior solo releases, Hersh strums on this one, with a great beat behind.  The guitars even grow expansive, with a string accompaniment, but that wisely does not dominate the album.  The record does suffer sometimes when the strings are at the fore, such as on "Nerve Endings", but not so with the melodic "Vertigo" or assertive "Winter".

Hersh’s voice has grown less soft in the 21st century, but in some ways, that has made it more interesting, as it sets her apart from other crooning songstresses.  Hersh never relied on being velvety-smooth, but just as the harder edges of her vocals worked better for the harder rock of 50 Foot Wave, so too do they integrate well on this much more expansive solo record.  Her voice does vary somewhat on Learn, as she goes deep into the female vocalist routine on the dragging, over-orchestrated "Ice", but the reverb of "Wild Vanilla" protrudes a nice new angle.

Kristin Hersh has never been afraid of doing her own thing, whether in her often hallucinatory or scatological Throwing Muses lyrics, or when she made an album of traditional Appalachian folk songs (1998’s Murder, Misery and Then Goodnight), but she also neither changes it up, simply for the sake of change.  Learn To Sing Like a Star keeps with that habit (as inappropriately named as Free Music! was appropriately), but with pieces that still fit together quite well.  With an engrossing twenty-plus year history of music making behind her, Hersh has nothing to prove to nobody, but that doesn’t stop her from doing it anyway.

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