Kristin Hersh

Murder, Misery and Then Goodnight

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By listening to interpretations of the Appalachian folk songs that Pa Hersh played for her six year-old daughter prior to nighty night, the explanation as to how Kristin Hersh became such an exceptional songwriter becomes increasingly clear. Her dark humor -- alternating between frightening and hilarious with a creepy level of dexterity -- is showcased on Murder, Misery and then Goodnight. "What'll We Do With the Baby-O" sounds inoffensive enough just going by the title, and the music is deceptively bouncy and playful. But wow -- give a listen to the lyrics! "Every time the baby cries, stick my finger in the baby's eyes/ Every time he starts to grin, give the baby a bottle of gin." Liquor is a common theme, given especially blurry focus on the first-person tale "Three Nights Drunk." But really, the subjects are more well-rounded than the title indicates. It's not as if every song here is capable of spooking youngsters. Or you, for that matter. Most could totally miss the words, given Hersh's calming voice. Each of these songs are traditional, with arrangements coming from the artist. Her acoustic work is spectacular as ever, and she's accompanied by her son Ryder on backing vocals and piano. So she's truly passing the songs to the next generation. It's doubtless that young Ryder will be able to pass these songs down to his kids, but whether or not you would want to depends on how playfully twisted you are as a parent. Few could do these songs as well as Hersh. Though not as essential as her "regular" records, it deserves official release; 4AD released it as part of their limited mail-order series in 1998. It might not exactly be Soothing Sounds for Baby, but Murder is still a sinister, lulling pre-slumber treat.

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