Kristin Hersh

Sunny Border Blue

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In her solo career, Kristin Hersh alternates between acoustic-based work like Hips and Makers and spiky, Throwing Muses-esque punk-pop. Sunny Border Blue, her fourth officially released effort, is considerably folkier than its predecessor, Sky Motel, but borrows enough of its rock vitality to avoid Strange Angel's sluggishness. Unfortunately, the album doesn't quite escape the slightly samey quality of Hersh's work since the Muses' 1996 album Limbo -- a few too many songs share tempos, melodies, and moods to make this a great Kristin Hersh album, but it's still a very good one that her longtime fans will appreciate. Hersh's gift for crafting fascinating and often disturbing lyrics remains; even relatively weak songs suggest intriguing stories with lines like "Candyland"'s "It's like this boy took all my clear cold nights/Left me hot and dry/And when he falls, I can't hear it." Musically, piano and brass flourishes give the album a more fleshed-out, dynamic sound than some of Hersh's previous solo work; impressively, she played virtually all of the instruments on Sunny Border Blue herself. Much of the album seems more like a suite than a collection of songs; winding, hypnotic folk-pop tracks like "Flipside" and "Silica" almost feel like different movements of a larger work. However, the rolling opener "Your Dirty Answer" showcases Hersh's husky, slightly raw vocals; the understated yet gripping "37 Hours" rivals any of the songs on Hips and Makers; and the slightly countrified cover of Cat Stevens' "Trouble" is another of Sunny Border Blue's highlights. The beautifully fractured pop song "Ruby" may be the most luminous moment, though frustratingly, it comes near the album's end. But it's "Spain," a seemingly gentle ballad that turns furious, that recalls the mercurial spark that initially ignited Hersh's music. It's not an entirely successful song, but it's a glimmer of excitement and unpredictability from an artist who used to define those words.

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