Heidi Saperstein – The Devil I Once Knew

Heidi Saperstein
The Devil I Once Knew

Damn. If Heidi Saperstein once knew a devil, I’d hate to know what she was like then, because she plays like a woman possessed. To say Saperstein is edgy would be an understatement. This woman should be headlining the Lilith Fair, not because she sings about women’s pride, but because she has an edge I always thought that all-woman lineup was lacking. In fact, Saperstein is all edge, but she coats it well so it goes down…with just a little discomfort.

Saperstein is a veteran of the Boston music scene, fronting the all-woman band Shiva Speedway for five years and already releasing a solo EP. On The Devil I Once Knew, she’s joined by members of Come and Karate as well as others, but the focus is all on her. She plays guitar with a kind of urgent emphasis, and her vocals – a sort of PJ Harvey sung/screeched/crooned cry – are even more emphatic. Her music jumps around a bit, from quieter ballads with acoustic guitar to more powerful, soulful, even slightly bluesy numbers, as well as a few that just rock out, but you never lose the kind of moody, angry edge that makes this album so unique and ultimately enjoyable – generally after a few listens.

We start with her bare-bones vocals and guitar that’s a bit daunting, but once the full band sound kicks in, the song takes on a much more pleasing quality, and right away you get a sense of PJ Harvey. I think the real standout is the title track, however, telling the story of the devil she once knew, the devil that’s a little bit inside her, to a quieter focus with a more mechanical, slightly Garbage-esque beat and some nice keys and moody bass. There’s a hint of gothic tendencies here. Eerie sound effects make a nice backing to the quiet, acoustic “Put Our Lips Together,” which contrasts to the powerful, almost soulful “Big Mama,” which is all about powerfully strummed guitar and a rolling, rocking feel. This is where Saperstein shines the most, when she uses her unique vocals for a powerful, soulful, almost desperate feel.

The angry, moody strings on “Ten” give the song a more urgent feel, as if Saperstein’s voice wasn’t enough (which it is, but the strings are a nice touch). There’s a more folk, slightly western feel to “Shakin,” but don’t worry, the moody ambience is still there. This is a really nice track, and it certainly does mix things up. “Sister Slit” goes back to the bass-heavy, edgy feel, although there’s the nice addition of piano here, and there’s even some trumpet on the closer “The Night.” This one probably has the best lyrics and best guitar, with a bit of the more moody Kristin Hersh feel to it. A nice way to close out the album with a more intimate feel.

This is not the easiest album to get through, especially on first or second listen. It takes several listens to get comfortable with Saperstein’s unique voice and her kind of jumpy, edgy rock. The quieter songs, which incorporate strings, win me over than the faster ones with a more synthetic beat, but all of these songs are quite good. Saperstein has a good chance to make her name known among female artists with this release.