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POP MUSIC | RECORD RACK

*** 1/2, JOHN PARISH & POLLY JEAN HARVEY, "Dance Hall at Louse Point," Island

September 22, 1996|Richard Cromelin

The credit on the cover, the musician roster and the creative procedures might be different, but there's no mistaking that this is pure PJ Harvey. Instead of tapping an unrevealed aspect of her makeup in this side project with her bandmate and co-producer, Polly Jean Harvey takes her familiar themes--obsession, deception, dread and emotional extremes--even closer to the edge than she has under her own name.

Harvey wrote all the original lyrics for Parish's music, which leaches the blues component from the PJ Harvey sound to create a casual-sounding, organic-feeling environment of pure desperation. Traumas are draped on webs of steely, Lightnin' Hopkins-like guitar lines, souls are agitated by churning, chopping blues-rock jams. The music yields sporadic flashes of the daylight the characters seek, but it's mainly the sound of the darkest part of night.

In this tomblike psychic space, Harvey lets fly with her most audacious singing yet, stalking into experimental diva Diamanda Galas' soul-baring territory as she ranges from startling, powerful whoops to a madwoman's whisper. In an album of jarring contrasts, her droll reading of Leiber & Stoller's pop-cabaret standard "Is That All There Is" captures an ultimate emotional numbness, a state where death is simply the last in a string of disappointments.

*

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good), four stars (excellent).

*

TimesLine 808-8463

To hear excerpts from the albums reviewed, call TimesLine and press * and the artist's corresponding four-digit code. John Parish, P.J. Harvey *5713

In 805 area code, call (818) 808-8463.

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