mon 22/07/2024

Album: Shirley Hurt - Shirley Hurt | reviews, news & interviews

Album: Shirley Hurt - Shirley Hurt

Album: Shirley Hurt - Shirley Hurt

Canadian singer-songwriter’s enigmatic debut

'Shirley Hurt' the album: made by Sophia Ruby Katz

The realisation that Shirley Hurt is the name assumed by Canada’s Sophia Ruby Katz for recording helps explain why her debut album is so oblique. As well as the cloaked identity, what seem initially to be direct songs cleaving to familiar musical forms have winding structures which don’t end up where they seem to be heading. Similarly, the lyrics are tough to parse.

Take “Problem Child.” Beginning in a vaguely Rickie Lee Jones manner, its jazzy undertone is bolstered by minimal, shuffling drums. Then, there’s some equally muted and unexpected “Do you Know the Way to San Jose” trumpet-like keyboards. Suddenly, just before the three-minute point, an entirely new melody is adopted. The lyrics of its second verse are “Problem child, Take me to my knees, I love you more than you would ever believe, Problem child, It could be so sweet, If you ever fly away I will climb up every tree.” In its apparently thematically unrelated video, Katz’s grandmother teaches her how to make an apple pie. Who is the problem child? Is it all a fiction which is being played out?

Inevitably, the temptation with singer-songwriters – especially those edging towards the folk-derived – is to treat what they write as reportage on their own lives, no matter how allusive it is. But with Katz, there’s the barrier brought by adopting another name for performing and recording, and her declaration that “lyrics tend to come to me when I am doing non-musical things – washing dishes, brushing my dogs, walking to the grocery store. Usually it’s bits and pieces.” A form of cut-up technique? Perhaps, then, this album fuses together fragmentary reflections to make a whole which isn’t a commentary on lived experience.

Shirley Hurt the album has big cult item written all over it. Anyone fascinated by the equally cryptic Aldous Harding – the name adopted by Hannah Topp for performing and recording – will want to dig in.


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