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Tanya Donelly


Country of origin:

U.S.

Type of music generally:

Alternative pop/rock

Status:

Most recent release, Swan Song Series (2013)

See also:

Tanya Donelly's site

A fan page

The Ectophiles' Guide entries for Throwing Muses, The Breeders, and Belly, all bands Tanya Donelly formerly participated in

Comparisons:

Her solo work is like a softer, poppier, more mainstream Belly

Covers/own material:

Own, very occasional covers

General comments:

I love Belly and I love Lovesongs for Underdogs. That said, they're comparable, but the stylistic differences are noticeable. I'd say Belly tends toward crunchier. And Lovesongs for Underdogs was on my top 10 of '97. (burka@jeffrey.net)

Tanya Donelly makes perfect eps, and whenever I think of what a silly format the ep is (the high expense to consumer per song, throwaway tracks, more care taken with packaging than music), I remember how Tanya redeems the little discs. Her brilliant eps are like exquisite short stories, perfect in every note and word, the most moving ballads and sparkling pop songs, nothing sagging like in longer albums (the 'Slow dust' ep even set me up for disappointment with 'Star'!). Everything has a place, and you have to play the disc over and over so the magic world doesn't end. And few of the songs turn up on her albums, so they *have* to be bought. (k_hester_k@yahoo.co.nz)

Comments about live performance:

I hadn't heard anything from the new album when I saw her, so I was really surprised to note the instrumentation in her current band: never in my life would I have expected to see a pedal steel guitar on stage with her, but there it was. So I immediately tossed all my expectations out the window, and ended up really enjoying the very mellow evening. (At times I could close my eyes and almost imagine I was at a Cowboy Junkies show, which was disconcerting but quite enjoyable.) Tanya has indeed grown up—she even looked like a soccer mom up there on stage. (8/04, meth@smoe.org)

Recommended first album:

Whiskey Tango Ghosts

Recordings:


Sliding and Diving EP

Release info:

1997—4AD

Availability:

U.K.

Ecto priority:

Recommended

Comments:

This came out last fall, and I've been looking for it in import sections ever since. I like this a lot as well... Most of it's comparable to Belly's second album (King). The power-pop track ('Human') which really stands out on the first listen, the ballads ('Swoon' and the second track) which don't really grab you at first... but eventually I get to like them the most.... (swiebe@callisto.uwinnipeg.ca)

'Sliding and Diving' alternatively rocks hard ('Bum' and 'Human') and sighs with country ballad 'Restless' and the confusion and love of 'Swoon'. (k_hester_k@yahoo.co.nz)


Pretty Deep single

Release info:

1997—4AD

Availability:

U.K.

Ecto priority:

Recommended

Comments:

'Pretty Deep' has the spaghetti western 'Spagetti', which is so catchy and bubbly. (k_hester_k@yahoo.co.nz)

Lovesongs for Underdogs

Release info:

1997—Reprise/Warner

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Recommended

Group members:

Tanya Donelly—vocals, guitar, keyboards

Guest artists:

Dean Fisher—accordion, bass, acoustic guitar, keyboards, percussion
Wally Gagel—bass, drum machine, keyboards, percussion
Rich Gilbert—accordion, guitar, bass guitar, keyboards, saw
Stacy Jones—drums
David Lovering—drums
Hilken Mancini—backing vocals
David Narcizo—drums Chris Toppin—backing vocals
Jonathan Williams—electric guitar

Produced by:

Tanya Donelly, Wally Gagel, Gary Smith

Comments:

I bought Tanya Donelly's solo album on the strength of the single, "Pretty Deep" which I think is a terrific song. I loved Belly's first album (Star), but was disappointed in their follow-up (King). I had originally intended to wait on Lovesongs but after hearing "Pretty Deep" I got it. I was not disappointed. It reminds me a little of Belly's first album, with some nice pop tunes along with the quirkier stuff that I love. Kind of a blend of Donelly's work with Throwing Muses and Star. At any rate, I definitely recommend it. She's got a talent for songwriting. I think I liked Lovesongs for Underdogs so much because that quirkiness came back. Tanya is a great pop songwriter who bends things enough to make them interesting without sacrificing great hooks. Lovesongs for Underdogs was in my top 10 of 1997 as well! (colford@chlotrudis.org)

I had read a number of negative reviews of Lovesongs, so resisted buying if for a long time, even though I am a big Throwing Muses/Belly fan. I eventually bought it anyway and was pleasantly surprised. The first couple songs have a very rockish sound, sort of like Belly's King album, although in my opinion more catchy than anything on King. The later songs bring in more acoustic guitars, strings, and some synths to excellent effect. There are really no bad songs on the album, although "Goat Girl" sort of annoys me just because the lyrics are kind of silly. Anyway, I would definitely recommend picking up Lovesongs. (stuart@sph.emory.edu)

I'm fond of her and I truly *wanted* to like Lovesongs. And while I like it well enough when I play it, the trouble is I don't seem to play it all that much. The first Belly record remains for me THE definitive Tanya and compared to that, Lovesongs for Underdogs is a bit of a disappointment. The tunes are not as memorable, the hooks not as catchy, the words not as quirky.... I feel the standout among her latest is the bittersweet "Restless" from the Sliding and diving EP which for me surpasses anything found on the album when it comes to beautiful tune and emotional impact.... Naturally such things are subjective—I can only say that's the way it works for me. It may be one of the better releases this year but to me it's strangely unsatisfying. Compared to the first Belly record... well, it just doesn't compare, really. (afries@zip.com.au)

finally got around to picking this up just recently, and I'm in love with it. Crunchy jangly string-laden pop tunes are screaming through my head, even when the disc isn't playing. Like now. I've yet to actually get any Throwing Muses stuff, but I adored Belly (King more than Star), and this new release does not disappoint. Music that makes you smile, even if some of the lyrics are real downers. I mean, how can you not giggle and sing along as Tanya explains, "I am a goat girl...". (burka@jeffrey.net)

I haven't delved deeply yet, but on first listen it didn't grab me the way Belly or the Throwing Muses do. (Horter3)

Another new album I've been digging quite a bit lately is Tanya Donelly's Lovesongs for Underdogs. Tasty power-pop that stays crunchy in milk. :) I don't know why, but it latched onto my brain and won't let go. There are some songs that sound like they fell off a Belly album, and others that sound like Throwing Muses cutouts. It's great driving music. (meth@smoe.org)

Well, my verdict is in. I thank you ectophiles for your feedback on Tanya and especially on her other work. Looks like I have some Belly CDs to buy... Coming from someone who hadn't really heard a lot of Tanya Donelly, I enjoy Lovesongs for Underdogs very much! I don't even mind "Goat Girl", in fact, I think it's cute. :-) I agree that "Manna" and "Swoon" are great cuts. The woman is very talented, and that voice of hers is just toooo sweet.... I'd give it four bongloads easy, and a hearty recommendation. (laverick@leland.Stanford.EDU)

Tanya's solo album was actually quite good (much to my surprise when i finally got around to listening to it) but no radio picked what would have been a great radio single "Pretty Deep" (catchy chorus, hooky chord progression, everything that had the makings for a hit). (iflin@speakeasy.net)


Sleepwalk EP

Release info:

2001—4AD Records—BAD 2108 CD

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Recommended

Group members:

Tanya Donelly—vocals, guitars

Guest artists:

Rich Gilbert—guitars, organ, pedal steel, accordion
Elizabeth Steen—organ
Dean Fisher—bass, acoustic guitar, keyboard, tambourine
David Narcizo—drums, tambourine
Bill Janowitz—lap steel guitar
Kristen Barry—piano

Produced by:

Tanya Donelly, Matthew Ellard, Dean Fisher, Brian Brown

Comments:

The ghostly flower x-rays on the design for 'Sleepwalk' float like antique jellyfish, graceful and violet, and suit the wet and thoughtful songs 'The Storm' and 'Last Rain'. I'm not so keen on cute 'After your party' and pretty guitar-pop 'Days of Grace', both co-written with her husband Dean Fisher—they're fun songs, but the other two are stunning.
     'The storm', only track on 'Sleepwalk' which is on her upcoming album, is dominated by an organ, which I usually don't like, but the chorus ("when I stumble, it will be under your spell, at your command) is gorgeous and dark and swoonsome, which is a word I can never avoid with Tanya, since she melds perfect melodies with the most loving and fragile of emotions. There is a mid-song pause for the aftermath of the storm, catching the post-fury silence and disquiet so well.
     "Last rain" closes the ep, and oh how besotted I'll be with this song all February! "Sometime today it will rain, one of the last of the 1900s. Should we go out and try to save it?"..."This is my stolen time, my piece of the sky, my story-line..." "so glad to be here [with you], it's kind of pathetic..." ...
     Sigh, so much beauty in something so small. (k_hester_k@yahoo.co.nz)

Beautysleep

Release info:

2002—4AD Records—CAD 2201CD

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

recommended

Group members:

Tanya Donelly—vocals, keyboards, guitars, wind, piano, acoustic guitar, e-bow, organ

Guest artists:

Rich Gilbert—guitar solo (1), guitars, organ, acoustic, electric & slide guitars, keyboards, autoharp
Dean Fisher—drums, bass, electric and acoustic guitars, keyboards, shaker, moog pedals, triangle, organ, guitar
Poppy Ellard—little voice (1)
Elizabeth Steen—organ, accordion, piano
David Narcizo—drums, tambourine
Gracie Bee—glockenspiel, toy piano
Mark Sandman—vocals (5)
Chris Toppin—vocals and back-up vocal arrangement (10)
Hilken Mancini—vocals (10)

Produced by:

Tanya Donelly, Matthew Ellard, Dean Fisher

Comments:

I picked it up a couple of days ago, and have been listening to it ever since. Successive listenings are helping it grow on me. It's the sign of an artist staking out mature ground, and some of it's definitely lovely, but I miss the brash and jagged pop of her work with Throwing Muses and Belly. That said, I think it's an improvement on the rather (in my opinion) anodyne rock of Lovesongs for Beginners and I DID find myself humming "the night you saved my life" last night. It's also interesting to hear the duet with Morphine's Mark Sandman, who's been dead for a couple of years. (adamk@zoom.co.uk)

I was terribly addicted to Lovesongs for Underdogs when it came out. This album doesn't come close. It does have some good songs, but is a little disappointing after such a long wait. (cdavis@tir.com)


Whiskey Tango Ghosts

Release info:

2004—4AD Records—CAD 2418CD

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

recommended

Group members:

Tanya Donelly—guitars, vocals

Guest artists:

Dean Fisher—guitars, bass, drums, percussion
Elizabeth Steen—piano, Wurlitzer, vocal on "dona nobis pacem"
Rich Gilbert—pedal steel, Nashville guitar
David Narcizo—drums on "story high," brushes on "the promise"

Produced by:

Producer's name

Comments:

I keep on forgetting this cd; not a good sign. It might be Tanya's strongest album—the songs belong together, it flows and shuffles and blends, understated, melodic, country-tinged. I expected some of her perfect (absolutely perfect!) heart-breaking pop ballads ("Swoon", "Sweet ride", "Last rain"...) or delirious country-pop (something giddily-fun like b-side "Spaghetti"), but it is all a bit grown-up. Opening 'Divine sweet divide' is even jazzy-torchy, which doesn't do anything for me; nor does the wurlitzer. Album closer 'dona nobis pacem' sounds like two horrid school-girls and I hate it.
     Anyway, if you like her quieter side, and you listen to this album a few times, you'll love enough of it. 'Whiskey tango' ("you're just a freckle away from changing everything") and 'My life as a ghost' catch at my throat. 'Butterfly thing' has a welcome menace, though I preferred it before I realised how the lyrics spell out its theme so plainly. (k_hester_k@yahoo.co.nz)

I've only heard it a couple times in the car this week, but I like it a lot. I never really noticed before just what a lovely voice Tanya has. Be warned, though, it is very mellow. Not much like her previous stuff at all. But growth is a good thing. (meth@smoe.org)

i've been listening to it a lot since i got it...much of it is lovely... (maier@joynet.com.au)

this last Tanya Donelly was a lot more mellow, dare I say this, grown-up, than all her previous ones... (afries@zip.com.au)

It's still growing on me, and while I don't yet adore anything on it as much as I adore "The Night You Saved My Life" and "Keeping You" from beautysleep, I'm not ruling out the possibility that it could happen some day. (drumz@best.com)


This Hungry Life

Release info:

2006—Eleven Thirty Records—7012

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Group members:

Tanya Donelly—vocals, guitar

Guest artists:

Joan Wasser—vocals, violin
Dean Fisher—guitar
Bill Janovitz—vocals
Rich Gilbert—pedal steel guitar
Arthur Johnson—drums

Comments:

I'm enjoying it, though less so than her other releases so far. Odd that it was recorded in 2004—it's a contemporary of Whiskey Tango Ghosts rather than something new. Seems a peculiar choice for release now. The concert was in August 2004, same month that Whiskey was released, so the songs were either written quickly or were ones she decided not to put on Whiskey Tango Ghosts.
     "Days of Grace" is a b-side from 2002 (the Sleepwalk ep, aka the "Storm" single). I never paid much attention to it because 'Last rain' is so pretty, but its country clothes work well. (k_hester_k@yahoo.co.nz)

Tanya's new album is definitely a winner. Much more upbeat and livelier than Whiskey Tango Ghosts. (lasherboy@gmail.com)

I have to say that I find Whiskey Tango Ghosts absolutely entrancing as well. To me, that record is a work of a dramatically mature songwriter and the music is really well-matched to the song and their content. I like This Hungry Life equally as well, but for completely different reasons. (woj@smoe.org)

I've been a fan of pretty much everything Tanya Donelly has ever done, with the possible exception of her uneven first solo album. This album was recorded mostly live with an audience, but isn't really meant as a live album. There's a lovely cover of the George Harrison tune "Long, Long, Long" from the White Album. (josh@cajo.org)


Thanks to JoAnn Whetsell for work on this entry.

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DISCLAIMER: Comments and reviews in the Ectophiles' Guide are excerpted from the ecto mailing list or volunteered by members of the list. They are the opinions of music enthusiasts, not professional music critics.

Entry last updated 2014-05-26 19:43:06.
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