Tanya Donelly "Lovesongs for Underdogs" (4AD/Reprise)
If Tanya Donelly writes love songs for underdogs, she's the leader of the pack. The first solo album from the Throwing Muses alumna and former Belly frontwoman revels in romantic misadventure and sexual surrender.
Human frailty brings out Donelly's strength; you can hear it in the album's pealing guitars, the gentle bellow of a cello, and most of all in that unabashedly sweet and pretty voice, which she seems to trust more and more with each album. No longer concerned with giving her band equal time, Donelly assigns tasks to notable hired guns (a trio of drummers--ex-Pixie David Lovering, Throwing Muse David Narcizo, and Veruca Salt's Stacy Jones--plus multi-instrumentalist Rich Gilbert and Donelly's husband, bassist Dean Fisher) and easily whizzes from giddy rockers to acoustic laments. She tartly teases in the T Rex-y "Lantern," struts a bit in "Breathe Around You," and warbles, wails, stretches, soars, and harmonizes with confidence throughout. Choices of the heart may keep Donelly among the misbegotten, but her instincts as a singer/songwriter are right on target. -- Nina Malkin