Kristin Hersh Sunny Border Blue

A long while back, writer Steve Schenkenberg evoked an image about that remarkable acoustic guitar-wielding poet Richard Buckner, which went like this: "Buckner writes songs that sustain the weight of the world by making it heavier — calming the storm by creating another one." It's an evocation that wouldn't be far from describing former Throwing Muses member Kristin Hersh and her spellbinding trips to hell and back. Following the dissolution of her band, Hersh entered the realm of solo acoustic vignettes and bared her already cathartic but sardonically witty tales, minus the collective band energy. It began with Hips and Makers in 1994, with Muses resurfacing for two albums. There was also a foray into murder ballads and Appalachian folk songs dedicated to her three little boys. Sunny Border Blue emerges after 1999's Sky Motel. In many ways, it is as if Hersh has come full-circle, though each time she spins off on a spiral. Sunny Border Blue bears all the intensity of Hips and Makers, especially in terms of her remarkable capacity to infuse songs with equal bits of raw anger and sly humour. If Sky Motel, in all its bright spectrum-coloured warmth, invoked the heat and sweat of California and moonlit deserts, Sunny Border Blue takes the listener back to that dangerous place where Hersh's songs do not get written, but demand to be sung. This has always been an inevitable contingency with her material. There are songs she writes and then there are spaces where songs await her arrival, which she both performs and exorcises. The hardest hitting song on this album is "Candyland," which touches upon Hersh's failure to win custody of her oldest son, Dylan, when he was three. Take the lines, "My son went down. This isn't trauma, it's not even drama. I was born with a sad song in my mouth, he gave me a reason to sing it." Though Hersh has always written songs that were family albums of her sensual tales about being drunk and deeply in love with her kids, husband and her band, nothing has ever been spoken so explicitly. In "Listerine," Hersh spills over with the intensity of Muses' history: "How'd I trust a band who'd leave me one by one? I only wanted a spark, I only wanted your hearts." But this is precisely the storm that comes in the wake of her quelling others. Just when the weight sets in, a line such as "You lubricate the morning, we were a match made in purgatory," from "White Suckers," sets the mood asunder. It's a sensuality that is unafraid of being skewed and sexuality packed with jabbing wit. To Hersh's credit, after her Throwing Muses semi-reunion on Sky Motel, she returns on this album as a solo musician, playing all the instruments and producing the entire album. The result is a soundscape that breathes, as if taking place in some abandoned church. But it's always crackling with the bite of her sliding chords, her Georgian-accented twang and brush sliding on snare drumming. These are innocent stories of the everyday that holds within it lust, love and plenty of searing frustration. It is as if she has wandered and found her feet again. Sunny Border Blue feels gut-level certain of itself. Even when she belts it out on “Your Dirty Answer,” about being tired, you know she will go another ten years with all the laughter, lust and anger intact. (4AD)