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Music Review: Euro Round-Up – PJ Harvey & John Parish and Marie Modiano

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We simply can’t let a blisteringly hot summer pass by without bringing a couple of slightly older releases back into the Eurorock consciousness.

Today we have the highly talented folk pop songstress Marie Modiano, and from the UK, PJ Harvey who, along with John Parish, released an excellent album earlier this year. It’s with this pairing that we start our round up today.

PJ Harvey & John Parish – A Woman A Man Walked By
When this album appeared earlier this year Blogcritics very own Glen Boyd concluded in his review that, "A Woman, A Man Walked By is, quite simply, a stunning record that displays PJ Harvey's talents as both a great vocalist and songwriter. It is, at this point, an early candidate for the best record that I have heard this year."

It is this statement, and of course, her remarkable back catalogue, that brings me to revive this album again at this particular point in time. Last time out White Chalk heralded something of a new direction for Polly Jean. Trimmed down to an altogether sparser sound, built around the piano, it highlighted her extraordinarily effective voice and characteristically poetic lyrics. It was an album that was universally well received.

She teams up again with John Parish for A Woman A Man Walked By. It was released in March 2009 on Island Records, and was mixed by Flood, the pseudonym of producer Mark Ellis who has worked with U2, Nick Cave, Depeche Mode, The Killers, Smashing Pumpkins, Erasure, and many more.

The music is courtesy of John Parish whilst the lyrics are from the often intense creativity that has become PJ Harvey’s trademark. The lead single, “Black Hearted Love” opens the album with a driving anthem which leads us into a subsequent maze of twists of turns.

The rest of the album is a heady intoxication of elegance, and darkness, whilst literally overflowing with imagination and extraordinary creativity. It takes us through the disturbing story of “The Chair”, the beauty of “Leaving California”, the unnerving “April, the unravelling of “Pig Will Not”, and the haunting “Cracks In The Canvass”.

On the latter she sings, "How do we cope with the days after a death, empty days, nothing left. Not even a funeral", above a simple keyboard. Then there is the poetry that is “The Soldier”, with its powerful lyrics dramatically set against a simple backing. The dark “Sixteen, Fifteen, Fourteen” is uncomfortable but irresistible. The title track itself draws you into a powerful web.

This is an album that demands attention and many plays to finally start to get to grips with the vast canvass on display.

Find out more by following the above link to Glen Boyd's earlier review or by visiting PJ's own website.

Marie Modiano – Outland
Any album that opens with something as exquisite as “Searching For Pearl” deserves a gentle reminder to bring it back into the focus of anyone that may have missed it.

It was the reference to Jimmy Campbell that initially caught my eye on Marie’s MySpace page. Jimmy of course was one of the more unsung songwriters drinking for the well of brilliance that was sixties Liverpool. I reviewed his re-releases on Classic Eurorock recently.

Marie Modiano peers at you from the cover alive with style and mystery. Her career has seen her as an actress starring with her sister in La Vie Privee and, of course, as a singer. Her music explores many of the far reaching passions of her life within a style that shifts effortlessly between folk, pop, jazz, and just a touch of the avant-garde that is slightly reminiscent of Nico.

She steps from one style to another as if crossing a river on stepping stones. Songs of bittersweet experience sit alongside moodier journeys through the darker side of life. She displays a freedom of expression and performance which makes this album, Outland, a joyful experience.

Her voice radiates the character and style of the album’s cover, often husky, sometimes delicate, always wide ranging, and engagingly dreamlike. Her first album I’m Not A Rose paved the way for Outland, an album of twelve songs that somehow seamlessly combines all of the above contradictions.

The excellent opening of “Searching For Pearl” leads to an equally impressive summer day soaked “Drifters In The Wood”. “Martin” is a beautifully written and performed folk-styled acoustic song, whilst “Spider’s Touch” is purely playful pop.

Strangely Marie can achieve all of these whilst delivering impossibly stylish tracks such as the melancholic highlight of “Shiny Sunday In Berlin” along the way. Too good to miss.

More details on Marie Modiano can be found on her MySpace page.

It's too hot to sit here at this computer. So I'll be back out into the sun. If you are looking for something to lie back and listen to this summer, then these two are well worth exploring.

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