The Peel Sessions 1991 - 2004
rom the bruised and battered lip that adorned 1992’s Dry, to the flailing hair of its follow up (Rid of Me), a cursory glance at the covers gracing PJ Harvey’s albums gives the listener some sense of what lies within. Over the past 15 years Harvey has gravitated from bare, open, and at times, ferociously opinionated music, to the heavy lipstick grandeur of To Bring You My Love , and the suave city slickness of Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea. The music, for the most part, has stayed the same, but, like her covers, Harvey has dressed it up, bought it a new pair of shoes, and took it to town. Her last release, 2004’s Uh Huh Her , was a more refined affair, stripped of grandiosity and graced accordingly by a cover shot of Harvey staring menacingly out of a car window; all bangs and bad attitude.
The cover for this collection of Peel Sessions is then, a misnomer of sorts; a soft focus black and white photograph adorns the sleeve, John Peel in the background, looking on like a father figure, Harvey, coyly glancing sideways. It’s a first for Harvey; she doesn’t look menacing or scary or sexy. There’s no lipstick. No fineries. And the only nakedness is the emotion one feels looking at it. This though, shouldn’t come as a surprise; Peel, after all, championed Harvey from the get-go, handing her a first session in 1991 (one year before the release of her debut album) with all four tracks included here. The cover may convey the mutual admiration the artists felt for each other, but, unlike her earlier artwork, seemingly goes against the music that lies within (twelve songs selected from the nine sessions she recorded) that exemplifies her raw, visceral live approach.
Like other Peel favorites (The Fall, Pavement), PJ Harvey used the sessions to not only try out new songs, but also throw her hand at obscure covers and rarities. Handpicked by Harvey herself, the songs range from a striking run through early single “Sheela-Na-Gig” to a take on Willie Dixon’s blues standard “Wang Dang Doodle,” which she pushes a few octaves higher. Opening things with the one-two bass heavy punch of “Oh My Lover” and “Victory” (whose bottom end rounds out not unlike another Peel favorite, The Fall), Harvey’s first session is completed by the revolving riffs and strung-out syllables of “Water.”
Though several sessions have been overlooked entirely, the body of work represented gives both fans and first-timers something to salivate over. “Naked Cousin” (found only on the The Crow: City of Angels soundtrack) is granted a rare airing, as is “This Wicked Tongue,” previously released as a Japanese bonus track on Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea. Rid of Me is represented by the Biblical screed of “Snake,” while later albums, Is This Desire? and To Bring You My Love, are overlooked entirely. “That Was My Veil” from 1996’s collaboration with John Parrish, Dance Hall at Louse Point, brings an acoustic touch to proceedings, as does the poignant finale, “You Come Through,” which was recorded at a Peel Tribute six weeks after his death.
As the album cover and liner notes indicate, this is a lovingly crafted compilation that not only represents the raw live power of PJ Harvey but also tips a cap to John Peel and the raw power his sessions had on performers.
Reviewed by: Kevin Pearson
Reviewed on: 2007-01-10