Kristin Hersh | Hips and Makers (solo debut album)
"Hips and Makers" - Kristin Hersh's debut solo album from 1994. I love so many things about this album. First and foremost is the music - original songwriting, strong vocals and incredible guitar arrangements. Then, there's the clever, honest and in-your-face lyrics: "this hairdo's truly evil, I'm not sure it's mine" (from "Teeth"), "I don't feel like work today, hell I won't go" (from "Houdini Blues"), and "I married a boxer to keep me from fighting. I married a brewer to keep me from drinking" (from "Hips and Makers"). And finally, there's the beautiful, breathtaking artwork from influential graphic designer Vaughan Oliver (v23) and Paul McMenamin, incorporating images from the iconic scrapbooks of Japanese artist Shinro Ohtake. Released by 4AD Records, the packaging, quality and presentation of the label's releases struck me to be almost as important as the music itself.
While the artwork and presentation may look all sweet and pretty, the songs and Kristin's presentation of these very personal stories are raw, unbridled, sometimes painful and real. The lyrics are deep, the acoustic guitar arrangements from Kristin are detailed, complex and beautiful.
There is some great production on Kristin's later solo work, but the straightforward arrangements on this album really stand out. "Hips and Makers" is special to me. As a guitar player myself, Kristin's style of playing inspires me and makes me want to play that guitar like she does. The liner notes tell us: "Kristin Hersh plays a Collings acoustic guitar", so there's no mystery about that.
My favorite track on this album? Well, all of them. But, if hard pressed, it would have to be "Me and My Charms", with its almost soft and touching verses that transform into a gut wrenching, emotional chorus with Kristin strumming that Collings for all it's worth: "Me and my charms, down on the ground, you can't leave me now".
The album's official single, recorded with backup vocals from R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe on the chrous, is probably the most mainstream/accessible track on the album, was a great choice for a single, and is an excellent opener to the album. "Teeth" (with its deep lyrics) and "Sundrops" (with its full-on, in-your-face energy) are also two other favorites of mine from the album.
Aside from the tracks on "Hips and Makers", there are few other songs from this time period that I enjoy listening to along with "Hips and Makers", and that would have nicely fit in with the flow and overall feel of the album, had they been included. If you're a completist like me, you'll want to give these a listen.
They include the three standout "b sides" from the "Your Ghost" single: "The Key", "Uncle June & Aunt Kiyoti", and "When the Levee Breaks" (Led Zeppelin cover); the song "Hysterical Bending" which was exclusively released on the "Just Say Roe" Warner Brothers compilation from 1994; and the demo version of "Your Ghost" from 4AD's "The 13 year Itch" compilation which just features Kristin (i.e., no Michael Stipe). This demo is what really made me pay attention to Kristin as a solo artist and want to hear more.
Just two years prior to "Hips and Makers", we got a taste of solo Kristin on the bonus disc ("Live at Maxwell's, Hoboken") that was included with the limited edition of Throwing Muses "Red Heaven" (1992). Armed with acoustic guitar (most likely that Collings), she performs stripped down versions of 16 Throwing Muses songs. Perhaps this was the precursor or possible inspiration for Kristin embarking on "Hips and Makers" and solo work. "Live at Maxwell's" is definitely worth a listen if you enjoy "Hips and Makers".
YOUR GHOST (Official Music Video):
I've been lucky to see quite a few Kristin Hersh (and Throwing Muses) performances, including her July 1994 show at Double Door (Chicago) supporting this album. The "Hips and Makers" show was the first time I'd seen her perform live. I was completely blown away by the way Kristin managed to effortlessly offer up the same perfect, detailed acoustic accompaniments to her songs, while delivering the vocals in such a personal way. When she sang, it was almost as if Kristin disappeared somewhere within until the songs decided they'd been delivered, at which point, they returned her body back to her. Watching her perform songs like "A Loon" and "Sundrops" as if she'd been possessed, staring straight out, head slowly weaving back and forth like a cobra - such a memorable performance.
The song performances were in such contrast to the personal and often humorous stories she'd share with the audience in between songs. What a great storyteller - it's no surprise that since then, she's authored several pretty amazing books (e.g., "Rat Girl", "Toby Snacks", "Don't Suck, Don't Die: Giving Up Vic Chesnutt"). I also remember that the opening act was Syd Straw, and at the end of her set, Kristin joined her to deliver a killer cover of AC/DC's "Highway to Hell".
A LOON (Alternate strings version from the "Strings" EP):
Twenty-two years later, Kristin continues to write and release great music as a solo artist, as well as with Throwing Muses and 50 Foot Wave. Not to mention the awesome, well-written books that she's recently completed - I highly recommend giving "Rat Girl" a read. And she's got a dedicated, loyal fan base ("Strange Angels" - myself included in that group) that supports her work through CASH Music - a great concept for artists who make music for all the right reasons.