Reviewed by Shawn Badgley, Fri., Oct. 6, 2006
This Hungry Life (Eleven Thirty)
Now 40 with a family, Tanya Donelly has lately written songs more out of self-preservation than self-discovery. Her craft has grown up burdened, finding itself at odds with the girlish adventures of her best work with Belly and the Throwing Muses. It's also adopted a heavy no-depression bent, which felt forced and half-hearted on 2004's mediocre Whiskey Tango Ghosts. This makes it even more remarkable,then, that This Hungry Life stands among her finest recordings. Cutting new material live over two nights at the current incarnation of Fort Apache Studios in Vermont, Donelly and her alt-star band guitarist husband Dean Fisher, Rich Gilbert on pedal steel, drummer Arthur Johnson, upright bassist Joe McMahon, violinist Joan Wasser, and harmonizer Bill Janovitz sound as much Midwest as Massachusetts on opener "NE." As it does for the duration, her underrated guitar comes in waves amid solid, straight-ahead arrangements, carrying one of the truly pure and versatile voices in rock like an empress on her way to observe a great battle or to fight in it. The title track finds Donelly at peace with nothing, though the tone is instrumentally, lyrically, and vocally reconciliatory. "This is easy, this sweet cacophony," she later sings in "Days of Grace," a twangy pop achievement. "It's like shootin' fish in a cyclone." Immediately after, she stands up to George Harrison's imposing "Long Long Long," a bold reminder that she can pretty much do whatever the hell she wants, however and whenever.