I'm really confused as to why This Hungry Life won't leave my stereo. I don't like Tanya Donelly as either a solo artist or with any of her former bands. So why can't I stop listening to this? How did this happen?
Perhaps it's because of "Little Wing." This song is a flame in an album filled with sparks. I've played it for a handful of people, and they've all been captivated, regardless of whether they're fans of The Clash or Barry Manilow. There's magic in this song. She pulled fire from the sky.
To say that none of the other songs on This Hungry Life are as good as "Little Wing" would be like saying no other crab houses in Baltimore are as good as Bo Brooks. "New England" kicks the album open with a celebration of homeward love, the power of "Kundalini Slide" flows upward with a desperate energy, and the forgotten heroine of "Invisible One" is brought to life by the band that screams for her from the darkness of a stage somewhere in Bellows Falls, Vermont. The only song here that could even remotely pass as lackluster is "River Girls," an anthemic closer that doesn't take flight the way it could.
I guess it's time to stop not liking Tanya Donelly, because I absolutely love this album.
The band sounds like a bunch of old friends who've been playing together for years. It's a live album, but it has the kind of richness and depth that I'd expect from a studio recording. (The low end is a bit lacking in regular speakers, but the mix is wonderful in headphones.) The audience mostly sounds indifferent, but I assume it was a production decision to give the crowd an almost ghostly presence. Donelly's voice is strong yet vulnerable, and its timbre reminds me of a trumpet -- a welcome relief when so many female singers conjure the softness of woodwinds.
Packaging: (Altered by EPFL)
The version of This Hungry Life at the EPFL is missing the real cover, but the front of the inner jacket is strong in its own right. The line drawings and two-color printing are surprisingly effective, and while they don't convey the depth of the music, they complement it well. The lyrics are included, though they don't shed much light on some of Donelly's more cryptic musings.
Listen if you like: Belly, Billy Bragg, Dolly Parton's Sugar Hill recordings
If it were food, it'd be: Breakfast at Morning Edition on E. Fayette St., with eggs and homefries and pancakes drenched in pure Vermont maple syrup and banana bread and fresh fruit and bacon and just-squeezed orange juice and a couple cups of incredible coffee. There are good friends at the table, and a bunch of friendly faces in the rest of the room. The weather outside is cruel and uninviting, which makes this little pocket of goodness all the more precious. And like Morning Edition (where the service is questionable and an occasional bullet flies past the front door), This Hungry Life has one or two little flaws that keep it from being absolutely perfect, but it is closer to perfect than it has any right to be.