Sparse, subdued third solo album from Muses/Belly survivor
Very unplugged and minimal with a soft country edge, this is perhaps Tanya’s Tapestry, her Blue. It’s the one where it makes sense that she covered Gram Parsons’ “Hot Burrito 2” live. Often she sings to just piano, lightly brushed acoustic guitar and pedal-steel: when David Narcizo’s drums come in towards the very end, they’re shy, muted. It’s an intimate, mature record. The vocals are wonderful. They have to be.
For fans of Belly and Throwing Muses, this won’t ‘rock’, and anything ‘indie’ has long been left behind. It’s funny that while Kristin Hersh launches a thrash-rock band in 50 Foot Wave, Tanya goes for rarefied air, chooses to express the near-religious grace of her heart. This is the Brill Building housing Mary Margaret O’Hara, Mazzy Star or Kate Bush’s Lionheart on the haziest, laziest summer evening. The catch is that Donelly was always great at emotional-tug pop hooks, 1997’s Lovesongs For Underdogs being one of the most undervalued albums of the past decade. Beauty Sleep (2002) hinted serenity was about to cloak the quirks. Here, despite the confessional lyrics, serenity is uniform. It’s classy, and fine, but does it excite?
The quality’s unquestionable. “Divine Sweet Divide” is a fragile, lovely hymn to the communication gap between lovers that must be traversed/tolerated/embraced. “Every Devil” is piano-led (by Elizabeth Steen), to the point of being McCartney-ish. There’s so much piano on this album you think of “Let It Be”, relevant or not. “Just In Case You Quit Me” is another devotional?”I can make it rain, I will make sure it finds you”?while “Butterfly Thing” boasts a conceit worthy of John Donne, and “My Life As A Ghost” is “sweet and strange/We’re happy in our star-scattered way”. “Fallout” is a brittle heartbreaker, and “Dona Nobis Pacem” appears to be a Latin psalm. While the sheer intelligence?and sublime voice?show up the feeble likes of Amos, Winehouse and Jones, there’s a sense that the Zen languor could do with fleshing out at times, some dynamics, some sex, some light and shade. For better or worse, this is love songs for grown-ups.