Learn to Sing Like a Star

Studio Album by released in 2007

Learn to Sing Like a Star review

First solo offering in nearly four years

Kristin Hersh (born August 7, 1966) is a noted, prolific American singer/songwriter. She has performed as lead singer and guitarist for alternative rock group Throwing Muses and the hardcore punk-influenced power trio 50 Foot Wave. Hersh's music is known for its creative chord chemistry, hypnotic sonic treatments, and a vocal style ranging from softly melodic singing to impassioned screaming. Some of her signature contributions to popular music include addressing the complexities of marriage and motherhood (no wonder, because she is the mother of four children) through impressionistic, sometimes hallucinatory lyrics about every day feelings and varying mental states. Learn to Sing Like a Star is her first solo offering in nearly four years. Hersh produced the record herself, and plays everything on it but drums played by bandmate David Narcizo with support from Martin and Kimberlee McCarrick on cello and violin, respectively. As you listen you're aware that her voice has developed an increasingly raspy edge, but is it any wonder that it’s showing signs of wear given just how many pies, musically speaking, Hersh has had her fingers in over her twenty-year career. Her solo work tends to fall in two camps as well, divided between the minimal folky aesthetic of her debut Hips And Makers and the more recent Grotto, and the more heavily poduced sound of Sky Motel and the perfectly executed Sunny Border Blue. The new offering Learn to Sing Like a Star veers towards the latter camp.

Kristin Hersh’s songs are always honest, painful and playful

Hersh supplies the pounding piano on opening a classic Hersh, surreal, sexual and disturbing track In Shock and the waltz-y echoey atmospheric guitar on Ice. Ushered in by both electric and downtuned acoustic guitar Day Glo, where her backing vocals breaks the emotion in the tune wide open. Her voice becomes a torn seam, a raggededge knife as she nearly screams. She loses it near the end with layers of backing vocals soaring behind her unhinged electric guitar. Cacophony and near silence hold hands on this recording. The instrumental blues Christian Hearse follows here, out of tune, faltering, but never out of time, though it is out of space, someplace from the Delta where it met the northern climes. There are two more instrumental pieces titled simply Piano 1 and Piano 2. They break the album in places to allow you to catch your breath. The stuttering rocker Peggy Lee features some knockout electric guitar entwined with the strings. A crying violin on Nerve Endings continues, echoes Kristin’s cynicism. Vertigo is the most poignant cut here; if personal and emotional disintegration had a theme song, this acoustic ditty would be it. While her musical output speaks of different voices, different impulses, pulling her this way and that, her lyrics remain a consistent thread: honest, painful and playful; sometimes impentrable, often very funny.

Hersh goes further in both lyric and musical composition

There is no lack of pathos on Learn to Sing Like a Star, and the album seems to be about learning to go on after grief, loss, and perhaps emotional abuse. The songs aren't saturated with the word "I," either. There are more "you" and "yours" here, although the first person is certainly present as well. The wily, raw emotion precludes these songs from being merely empathetic; Hersh goes further in both lyric and musical composition than she has before. What often gets lost admist talk of her unique career, is what a superb and skilled musician she is. While her material may track over familar ground, her songs are never repetitive, her music always feels fresh in a way that is not always the case with artists whose careers are half or even quarter of the length of hers. There’s a fountain of creativity within her that shows no signs of drying up any time soon. Learn to Sing Like a Star (the title is borrowed from the subject line of a spam email Hersh kept receiving) has a few more rough edges than Sunny Border Blue, but it’s a rich and rewarding album from an artist who - thankfully - keeps on evolving in subtle and exciting ways.