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Alterna-thrush Hersh Follows Her Muses : *** KRISTIN HERSH, “Hip and Makers”; <i> Reprise</i>

This is the 27-year-old singer-songwriter’s first solo album since she decided to put Throwing Muses, her arty, 8-year-old quartet, on the back burner. Hersh’s solo debut stands out as some of her best work yet. On the current alternative scene, only her stepsister and former Muses sidekick Tanya Donelly (now the leader of Belly) can match her crystalline vocalizing.

Unlike the Muses’ jerky, angular rhythms and disturbing tones, Hersh’s near-folkie acoustic guitar spins delicate webs of organic melody. The subtle violin and cello lines serve as a moody backdrop and add depth to spare, simple songs.

Another development is Hersh’s less restrained, dramatically angry vocals on such songs as “Houdini Blues,” which may partly reflect the influence of her co-producer, ex-Patti Smith Group guitarist Lenny Kaye. On “Velvet Days,” Hersh retains her pure and high vocal strains, which coat her emotional and often harsh lyrics with a stunning otherworldliness.

This album packs as much Angst as Nirvana’s “Nevermind"--but in a polished, delicate package. It clearly proves that Hersh is more than just a ruling diva in the arty underground.

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


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