Kristin Hersh – Wyatt At The Coyote Palace

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Kristin Hersh – Wyatt At The Coyote Palace

I began listening to Wyatt At The Coyote Palace with the knowledge that I, and anyone else hearing it, are to think of it as more than just a collection of songs linked in various ways, such as when and where they were written, who played on them, where they were recorded and who produced them. The combined effect of twenty-four new music tracks and an accompanying book, can only lead the audience of Kristin Hersh’s newest album to conclude that they are participating in an elaborate artistic project, one which needs more than forty or so minutes of their time. However, they needn’t try to take on every word and note, they can dip in and out of the whole thing as they choose.

As it is, Wyatt At The Coyote Palace more than succeeds in its artistic ambitions. The music is finely played and interpreted and the book is enjoyably readable, its tales of teenage waywardness combined with some of the long-player’s lyrics are readable without being overly minimalistic and while my review copy is only a PDF file of the book itself, with its familiarly subdued graphics and unpredictably random visuals, probably needs to be seen in its hardback form to fully appreciate its contents.

About the music, things become slightly more problematic. Over 24 tracks, and with Hersh playing all the instruments and providing all of the vocals, it could seem inevitable that even an acknowledged, established talent as well regarded as she is could find herself stretching those talents a little too thinly. This doesn’t quite happen, but there inevitably are going to be those that would prefer an album more focused on what are the actual highlights of the 24 pieces presented here. Actually making that many songs sound interesting when all you’re starting with is a 12-string acoustic would tax the abilities of many a pro performer, and as you would expect there are numerous interjections from varying layers of electronics, percussion and – on at least one track – a cello. At least, I think there’s a cello somewhere in amongst the guitar parts and avalanche of percussion of third track “In Stitches” the song that seems to kickstart the album properly into life and will convince most anybody as to the actual talent present throughout the collection. Fifth track “Green Screen” has the authentic tone of vintage Throwing Muses about it, and the stop-start intro of “Hemingway’s Tell” is more than a hint of a shorter, less indulgent album that Hersh decided she had too many songs to release in its original form. Or perhaps the other album whose songs are present here were very much in the way of “Guadalupe”, just guitar, vocal and some tambourines in the background. Hersh is certainly a sufficiently empowered songwriter to make an album of minimal arrangements work effectively.

What does appear to happen though is that over the course of the complete collection, the songs partly lose their individual identities, subsumed by the continual onslaught of Hersh’s guitar playing and recognisably dry vocal style, and this may cause some of the more notable moments to lose their effect. The angsty drama of “Sun Blown”, the evocative melody of “Cooties”, the spirited guitar play of “Christmas Underground” and the reminiscent of her Sunny Border Blue heyday “Shaky Blue Can” might each find themselves sinking under the weight of the entire project. Committed Hersh fans (and there are a lot of these) will laud Wyatt At The Coyote Palace as her masterpiece, while others may say they prefer the harder-edged music of 50 Foot Wave, or the classic Throwing Muses line-up. A big-scale project such as this invites a large number of responses, and with so much in the way of music and words to share with us, it says much for Hersh that, in its entirety, Wyatt At The Coyote Palace shows us a performer whose energies are intact and whose music and lyrics retain their ability to provoke, charm and occasionally disturb us.

Omnibus Press