Donelly, Love Songs for Underdogs (Reprise 1997) - Both beautiful
and talented, Tanya Donelly has come a long way during her 11-year recording
career (which began with half-sister Kristin Hersh
in the Throwing Muses, continued with Kim Dealin
the Breeder's, and then passed through the one-album
project from Belly). With Love Songs for Underdogs,
Donelly hopes to move from underground hero to mainstream success.
On the new album, Donelly (vocals and guitars) is joined by husband,
Dean Fisher (formerly of the Juliana Hatfield
Three) on bass, along with numerous other friends, including
David Lovering, David Narcizo, and Stacey Jones
Love Songs for Underdogs is a pleasant affair, buoyed
by Tanya's strong vocals. But I keep waiting for the hit single: There's
nothing on the new album that matches the transcendent "Feed the Trees"
from Donelly's days with Belly. Great taste, less filling.
Dorff, Hint of Mess (Work Group 1997) - Hint of Mess
is the newest installment in the ever-popular tortured artist series.
In this chapter, our guest is bashful Andrew Dorff, a 19-year-old native
of Los Angeles.
Don't be fooled by Dorff's youth: after high school, Dorff left Los
Angeles for the mean streets of New York City. As he recalls, "I knew
a girl there, but didn't know much else. I mostly walked around the
city alone. I had very few clothes, and didn't bring many belongings.
Sometimes you just do something, and you don't know why."
That creative plunge lead Dorff to Justin Clayton,
who appears on the album and co-wrote several of the songs, including
the playful, "I Splash." Says Dorff, "'I Splash' was sort of a turning
point . . . I call it a joyous revenge kind of song."
While in New York, Dorff also struck up a friendship with cult legend
singer/songwriter Willie Nile. Remembers Dorff, "I
was eating a plate of pasta and talking kind of low and someone said
to me, 'Who are you talking to?' and I responded, 'I'm talking to my
sauce.' Willie was at the other end of the table and blurts out: 'That's
a great title for a song.'" Laughs Dorff, "I knew we were kind of on
the same wave length. I talk to him every day now."
With his gravelly voice and storytelling style, Dorff is reminiscent
of Tom Waits. The strongest track on the album is "Angel
Puppets," a slice of guitar-oriented pop that recalls Matthew
Sweet's best work. "Angel Puppets" sounds like the work of
a more mature artist, and deserves radio airplay.
Hint of Mess is anything but a mess, and is a strong
calling card from this new voice.
Wylie Hubbard, Dangerous Spirits (Philo/Rounder 1997) - Add
Ray Wylie Hubbard to your list of Texas singer/songwriters (along with
Butch Hancock, who wrote the haunting, "If You Were
a Bluebird"). Hubbard's songs are filled with broken heroes, luckless
gamblers, and vilified gods. With a strong cast of guest vocalists,
Dangerous Spirits is a slice of the dark side of folk.
Helping Hubbard on backing vocals are such skilled artists as Jimmy
Lafave andSarah Hickman ("If Heaven Is Not
a Place to Go"), Dead Reckoner, Kevin Welch("Last Train
to Amsterdam"), Tish Hinojosa ("The Sun Also Rises,"
probably the best song on the album), and Lucinda Williams
("The Ballad of The Crimson Kings"). Other Dead Reckoners make guest
appearances, including Kieran Kane on mandolin and
Mike Henderson on electric guitar.
If you're looking for characters who have walked with Luke the Drifter,
Strangers Almanac (Outpost Recordings 1997) - Whiskeytown is
a quartet that formed in Raleigh, N.C. in 1994. With Strangers
Almanac, their second full-length release, the band tries valiantly
to tie into the country ballad sound of the earlyEagles.
The results are mixed.
Which is to say, there is no "Crying Eyes" on this album, although
tracks like "Turn Around" and "Somebody Remembers the Rose" are pleasant
enough. More successful are the uptempo numbers, such as "Excuse Me
While I Break My Own Heart Tonight," which feature a jangly, Flying
Burrito Brothers sound.
Recorded in Nashville by veteran producer Jim Scott
(who has worked with diverse talents, including Johnny Cash,
Tom Petty, and Danzig), Whiskeytown
retains the folk/ballad influences of its native North Carolina. There's
an unfolding music scene in the South, and Strangers Almanac
is another link in the chain.
-- Randy Krbechek