Tanya Donelly is an indie rocker who has made her 30-year career in the Boston area. The Rhode Island native started Throwing Muses with her stepsister Kristin Hersh in the early 1980s, then went on to be a founding member of The Breeders and the leader of Belly in the 1990s.
After wrapping up those projects, Donelly launched a solo career in 1995, recruiting her husband Dean Fisher to play bass and Throwing Muses drummer David Narcizo. For each of her four solo records, that remained the core of the band. Donelly/Fisher/Narcizo. Other players have come and gone, but that’s it. Her first record, Lovesongs for Underdogs, came out in 1997 to mixed reviews. Anyone who was expecting a Belly record was sorely disappointed. It wasn’t that at all. Not as poppy. None of the textbook Tanya guitar work. There’s actually one song on that record (“Landspeed Song”) in which the lead guitar sounds like Kristin Hersh. I can’t remember what type of thing I was expecting from that record, but I liked it.
Five years passed between Lovesongs and the next record, which was also met with lukewarm reception. In the interim, Tanya gave birth to her daughter Grace Bee Fisher. That experience of childbirth and of motherhood shaped beautysleep in a way that the record may as well be called “Baby Girl” or something like that.
Right from the drop, the first thing we hear on the album is a heartbeat. I think I read somewhere that it’s a recording of the actual heartbeat of the in utero Grace Bee. Maybe I’m remembering it wrong. I might be thinking of that heartbeat sound on “Teardrop” by Massive Attack. Maybe I read that on that record, it was the sound of Elizabeth Fraser’s in utero daughter. Maybe I read both. Maybe I read neither.
Even if I made it up, it’s still a heartbeat. A little one. While that song isn’t about the baby, or motherhood, there are at least two songs on the record that are. One is the anthemic “The Night You Saved My Life”. Today’s song is another of them. Check the lyric:
You landed here from inner space
You landed with that screwed up look on your face
I wanted you from way back when
I wanted you for years, then years again
Not because of that line and not because of what it is reportedly about, this is my favorite song on the album. I love it a lot because of a lot of little things that I’ll get to in a minute.
I remember liking the album a lot when it first came out. When I listen to it now, though, I like “side A”, but I can barely make it through the second half of the record. I still say that the glory of “side A” justifies the purchase of the album and makes up for the blah that is “side B”.
Here, anyway, is today’s song. For the record, it’s the fourth song on the album.
“Keeping You” by Tanya Donelly
“Keeping You” is a really delicate song through the first verse as it very slowly builds momentum with keys, bass, and softly played drums. Even though it’s almost a military cadence, the drums are soft. Then there’s a glorious stroke of electric guitar at 1:20, and there’s full band through the chorus. It returns to the delicate bit through the second verse, but the lead-in to the second chorus is slightly different. A little more aggressive. At 2:31, there’s a burst of three guitar strokes (down/up/down), then two (up/down). Then into the full-band chorus. I think it’s a neat little trick that it’s only there the second time through. There’s also a lot of Tanya vocalizing on another vocal track buried down in the mix. I think there’s actually three “Tanya vocal” tracks through that second chorus, which is a little extended.
Then it goes back to the “I’m keeping you” vocal part, and this time, while she’s singing, there’s another track of her whispering under it. These are the types of things that might go overlooked, and they’re the things that make me love this song.
Matthew Ellard, who has worked with the likes of Buffalo Tom, Mary Lou Lord, Billy Bragg & Wilco, Scrawl, Tru Love Always, Elliot Smith, and Mark Sandman did the engineering and co-produced the record alongside Tanya and Dean. Props to him for those “little” things that I love in that song.
Tanya’s site is down, and the 4AD/Beggar’s Banquet site doesn’t list beautysleep in their sales catalog. You’ll have to get it from somewhere else. Of course you should support your local mom and pop record shop, but in he absense of that, buy this album on-line. Digital and hard copies are available from Amazon.