The aptly named Beautysleep finds Tanya Donelly's creative muse refreshed and revitalized after the four-and-a-half-year stint between this and her solo debut, Lovesongs for Underdogs. However, this album bears little resemblance to Underdogs' slick, slight attempt at triple-A pop. Indeed, its best moments, such as "Another Moment," share the same sweetly spooky vibe that Donelly perfected with Belly, but also belie a stronger, more grounded sound and lyrical outlook. "In the beginning my love was fierce/now I sit with my babe at my breast/I was never this good at my best," she sings on "The Night You Saved My Life," and this domestic serenity seeps into most of Beautysleep's material. Songs like "The Storm," "Keeping You," and "The Wave" hew closer to traditional singer/songwriter conventions than Donelly's earlier work -- and feature a slightly countrified twang to boot -- but still retain enough of her trademark weirdness to make the album distinctive. Beautysleep's quirky, slightly trippy production adds another layer of interest, particularly on "Life is but a Dream" and "Moonbeam Monkey," which, despite its title, is an eerie, hypnotic duet with Morphine's late singer, Mark Sandman, and one of the highlights of Donelly's entire career. Similarly, moody tracks like "Wrap-Around Skirt" and "The Shadow" wouldn't sound out of place on a Belly album. While Beautysleep doesn't offer quite as many of the giddy peaks and valleys that made Star so enthralling, it's arguably Donelly's strongest and most consistent work since that landmark album.
by Heather Phares