Album Review

Tanya Donelly - This Hungry Life

Tanya Donelly - This Hungry Life

Tanya Donelly has an astonishing set of pipes: clear as a bell and an odd, sexy little warble lining the edges, like Joan Baez crossed with Victoria Williams. If Donelly had "done" Americana instead of being an alterna-rock mainstay, she'd be the missing link between Loretta Lynn and Neko Case. It's the music she makes that's vexing. To date, the pixieish Donelly's main claim to fame is Belly, a middling '90s outfit that was officially embalmed last year on Rhino's Whatever boxed set of that decade's one-hit wonders. Three underwhelming solo albums followed, and This Hungry Life maintains the streak. Somewhat daringly, Donelly recorded it in front of a live audience, although there's no tangible transfer of energy, leaving the band (which includes members of Frank Black's Catholics and Antony & the Johnsons) to dutifully rehearse nine new songs plus George Harrison's "Long Long Long". The cover, suffused in a Cowboy Junkies-like atmosphere of longing and regret, is a high point. The best original is "Littlewing", a buoyant celebration of motherhood on which Donelly's joyfulness is infectious. Powered by violin and pedal steel, it suggests an alt-country direction would serve the singer well. Elsewhere, Donelly serves up a soggy bowl of granola that'll leave you, er, hungry, from the lead-footed, waltz-time "NE" to the title track's faux-'50s balladry to the initially promising "Days Of Grace", which starts out like Dylan's edgy "Hurricane" but devolves into Dire Straits Lite. Given Donelly's obvious gifts, she still has a shot at surmounting one-hit wonder status. This, though, ain't it.