Kristin Hersh’s debut solo album Hips and Makers, released in January 1994, is an album well worth commemorating.
Amid a number of significant and more higher-profile 20th anniversaries this year (generally testifying to the incredible quality and quantity of music being put out twenty years ago), here’s one that I personally wanted to make mention of.
Particularly on account of it not being mentioned much anywhere else.
Put out on 4AD in the UK, this was Hersh’s first post-Throwing Muses work and was substantially different from the more full-band-based indie rock of that outfit.
In contrast, Hips and Makers was bare, stripped down, representing a songwriter shorn of all artifice and baring her soul, both musically and lyrically.
Coming across half like a woman scorned and protesting at the heavens and half like a female medieval troubadour depending on which specific track you’re on, it’s the bareness of this album, most of it just Hersh with vocals and acoustic guitar (Jane Scarpantoni assists on cello in some places), that really defines its character.
A mixture of sweetness and sadness in equal proportions, some of it like an open wound.
I remember listening again and again to this album on cassette tape when it was first out. In 1994 Hips and Makers was one of the things that was constantly in my cassette player along with Hole’s Live Through This, Manic Street Preachers’ The Holy Bible and all the Nirvana albums.
It still sounds great two decades later. Hips and Makers is one of those albums I tend to forget about completely for a long period of time and then one day I’ll find it laying around and I’ll put it on and discover its emotive secrets all over again, a bunch of long-forgotten memories rushing to the surface.
Your Ghost, which has Hersh accompanied by Michael Stipe on the choruses, is fittingly haunting in its moody repetitiveness, almost like a hymn; and one that could have been playing on a loop in Mrs Haversham’s mp3 player if such technology had existed in Dickens’ world.
From the emotionally gripping drama of Me and My Charms to the summery waterfall of Sundrops and the flowing bittersweetness and cello accompaniment of Velvet Days, the whole work is compelling in its quiet intimacy that manages to feel both bruised and optimistic.
But it’s the title track Hips and Makers that was always my personal favorite, a perfect way to see out a precious and intimate album.
Given the stature of albums being put out in 1994 – including Soundgarden’s Superunknown, amid all the rest, including some of the albums mentioned above – for so bare-boned an acoustic album as Hips and Makers to still stand out as something so essential is pretty extraordinary. But the record is so overflowing with feeling and soul that its residue is impossible to shake off: you feel like a part of Kristin Hersh is with you forever after this.
The album was also made and released during what I have to consider the golden age of female recording artists: not just girl bands (of which there were a number of great ones), but female solo artists and songwriters of the highest caliber – people like PJ Harvey, Tori Amos and Bjork, for example. Kristin Hersh certainly should be regarded as one of the best: and Hips and Makers regarded as one of the most powerful and resonant albums by a solo singer/songwriter.
So, if you’ve never heard this album before, do yourself a favor: and create a quiet space for yourself to experience Hips and Makers from beginning to end.