Part of a series commemorating the second anniversary of legendary BBC DJ John Peel's death, PJ Harvey's The Peel Sessions 1991-2004 feels like a thank you and goodbye to a longtime friend. It should almost go without saying that these performances are great. As good as PJ Harvey's albums are, her concerts are even more striking, and her rapport with Peel just adds to the intimacy and intensity of these songs. The tracks from the October 1991 session that kick off the album account for a third of the entire album and may actually be better than the versions of these songs that ended up on Dry almost a year later. "Oh My Lover"'s lumbering guitars and "Victory"'s heavy, almost tangible basslines capture the formidable power and tightly controlled dynamics of the PJ Harvey trio at the time. However, the ecstatic version of "Water" is the standout, harnessing the full range of Harvey's amazing voice, from gently phrased verses to gasping shrieks at the song's end. From here, The Peel Sessions 1991-2004 takes some interesting twists and turns. Harvey hand-picked all the songs included here, and she makes some surprising choices (though maybe they shouldn't be, considering that she often puts unexpected songs in her live shows). Her version of Willie Dixon's "Wang Dang Doodle" (which also appeared as a B-side on the Man-Size single) is one of her most ferociously sexy and playful performances from the Rid of Me/4-Track Demos era, and it doesn't disappoint here; "Losing Ground," the creepy biblical punk of "Snake," and "This Wicked Tongue," a snarling rocker that was only on the Japanese version and first U.K. pressing of Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea, are equally raw and direct. On the other hand, the almost-folk of "That Was My Veil" and hypnotic restraint of "Beautiful Feeling" show that the more reflective sound Harvey developed later in the '90s was just as gripping. Interestingly, the only single included from her post-Dry work is the final song, "You Come Through," which she performed at the Peel tribute held six weeks after his death (making lyrics like "golden wishes to your health and mine" that much more poignant). Here, as with most of her career, Harvey doesn't go for the easy choices -- something she and her friend definitely had in common.
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AllMusic Review by Heather Phares