PJ Harvey—The Peel Sessions (Island)
It’s PJ Harvey freakout time again, with a release that I’ve hoped to hear for a long time now. The Peel Sessions rounds up a dozen tracks from 1991 to 2004 as Polly's way of saying thank you to her long-time supporter John Peel (RIP). “John’s opinion mattered to me,” she writes in the booklet. “More than I would ever care to admit, for fear of embarrassment on both sides.” The sessions appear in chronological order, starting with four songs from 1991. “Oh My Lover” is raw and anguished, “Victory” and “Sheela-Na-Gig” are fiercely rendered, and while “Water” was never one of my favourite songs off Dry, it stands out on its own here with its stutter beat and spartan yet dynamic presentation. Stephen Vaughan's steely bass lines in particular take this song over the top. The ’93 session (presumably round the time of Rid of Me) features two tracks that never made it onto an album—the riotous “Naked Cousin” and a cover of Willie Dixon’s “Wang Dang Doodle,” which is just completely salacious. I’ve wanted to hear this track for ages. I think it came out as a b-side back in the day, but I was too slack to track it down at the time. (PJH has always put out great b-sides.) In 1996 she recorded—along with John Parish, her partner for that year’s Dance Hall at Louse Point—another obscurity, "Losing Ground" (dig that throaty Telecaster sound…it must be a Telecaster), "Snake" (sounding just as caustic as the original 4-Track Demo), and “That Was My Veil,” pretty much the first time the album eases off the throttle. “This Wicked Tongue” and “Beautiful Feeling” follow from 2000, and the album closes with “You Come Through” from the John Peel Tribute Concert in 2004. As I said, I’ve wished for a PJ Harvey Peel Sessions album for years. There’s a lot of love in these songs’ presentation, and as a thank you and tribute to a fine gentleman and an important figure in music, it’s perfect.