With her second solo effort, Beautysleep, Tanya Donelly finds herself smack-dab in the middle of a musical uprising not unlike the kind she helped spearhead over a decade ago. With a hand (or two) in the creation and success of Throwing Muses, The Breeders and the Grammy-nominated Belly, Donelly has a resume and pedigree (the Muses’s Kristen Hersh is her step-sister) lengthy enough to make her a household name. And she is, but just barely. “Good music was popular by mistake,” she says of the alt-rock boom. “Then the crap took over again.” Belly split up and Donelly’s solo debut, 1997’s Lovesongs for Underdogs, hardly made a blip on the sonic radar, leading the singer-songwriter to take a four-year hiatus and settle down with a new husband and child. It may be a bit premature for a revolution the size of Nirvana, but the bewitching Beautysleep (and the return of The Breeders later this year) could mark the return of something, anything other than ordinary. But that’s not to say Beautysleep isn’t brimming with pop hooks. A pair of new-baby tunes, the twangy “The Night You Saved My Life” and “Keeping You” are as catchy as anything on Belly’s triumphant final offering, King. Donelly’s vocals are more confident than ever, venturing new territory on the jangly, optimistic “The Storm” and the gothic “Moonbeam Monkey,” which features spooky backing vocals by the late Mark Sandman of Morphine. Beautysleep burns slow, its taunting electric guitar riffs rarely reaching the crunchy splendor of “Feed the Tree.” But while the album might not “rock,” Donelly’s lyrics are more grounded than ever and she soars clouds above “the crap” that has taken over. The album’s opening track, “Life Is But a Dream,” spins a backward guitar solo beneath a Billie Holiday-esque vocal delivery while tracks like “Darkside” and the dirgy “The Shadow” deftly incorporate instruments Britney’s surely never even heard of (e-bow, autoharp, moog pedals). “Blighted and solo,” she sings. “This is where I come in.”
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