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Beware Of The Dogs - Stella Donnelly
BY NEAL MARTIN | MARCH 27, 2019
Hot on the heels of last month’s recommendation, Jessica Pratt, candidates for March’s musical offering consisted of three more female singer-songwriters worth wrapping your ears around. Apologies to Julia Jacklin and Jenny Lewis, but in the end I decided that everyone should become a fan of Stella Donnelly. Originally from Fremantle, Australia, Donnelly burst onto the musical landscape a couple of years ago with the astonishing “Boys Will Be Boys”. Its simple lilting melody and waltzing time signature sweetened the serious topic at its core, in this case, the horrifying rape of one of her friends. Its release six months before allegations against Harvey Weinstein came to light make it seem disturbingly prescient, the couplet “Boys will be boys/Dead to the word no” devastating both in the economy in getting to the heart of the (male) problem and the unsung consequences of what happens after.
Twenty-six year old Donnelly’s debut album “Beware Of The Dogs” continues in the same vein: an affecting and versatile voice, indie-pop vibe with hints of alt-country wired to clever and brutally candid lyrics, occasionally so funny they can leave you squirming. A direct comparison can be made to Lily Allen, Britain’s most underrated songstress. Donnelly has not become tabloid fodder and not been exposed to the screwed-up side of fame like Allen has, yet both share an ability to disarm the listener with their pretty, pure, you might say “birdlike” voices that make them more affecting. Like Allen, Donnelly conveys a sense of vulnerability that lies in stark contrast to the razor-sharp sardonic wordplay and jibes against n’er-do-well men. One difference between them is Donnelly’s voice. It has greater depth and resonance, illustrated in the soaring chorus of Boys Will Be Boys. She effortlessly clicks into another gear whenever necessary, adding emotional gravitas to the album as a whole.
“Beware Of The Dogs” is the kind of album I just love. Beautiful melodies, clever and catchy lyrics, songs that make you think, somebody with something to say. Opening track “Old Man” sets the tone. It reminds me a lot of the kind of songs I was listening to during the early 1990s, perhaps an artist you might have found on the Sarah record label. It is based upon a woozy, summery finger-plucked guitar riff that is neatly offset by Donnelly’s slightly jagged vocals that occasionally dip into half-spoken/half-sung delivery. The first line of the song complements the titular gentleman. The second line calls him out for hitting on her when away from his current girlfriend. “Your personality traits don’t count if you put your dick in someone’s face,” she chastises.
That promo for “Old Man” is worth a look and it is not dissimilar to the video for follow-up single “Tricks”, where the male portrayed is just a bit of moron. The song was apparently inspired by the lewd behaviour of guests at a pharmaceutical conference where Donnelly was singing as part of a cover band. I guess a lot of men are morons. It’s just that some are more dangerous than others and tragically many women find out when it is too late, though that doesn’t stop Donnelly breaking into laughter at the entire ridiculousness of this state of affairs about two-thirds of the way through. The songwriting is exemplary throughout this album. “Allergies” is a gorgeous almost lullaby-like ballad, perhaps the most Allen-like, especially the heavenly falsetto chorus accompanied by a reverb-packed guitar (not unlike Vini Reilly) leaving enough space for Donnelly’s voice to swoop and soar. The album is not all about the fecklessness of the male species. She also branches out to rue the ennui of touring, politics and death, all tackled with same lyrical dexterity and charming melodies.
I cannot recommend “Beware Of The Dogs” highly enough. This debut album confirms the major young talent evidenced in “Boys Will Be Boys” in 2017. Go listen. Go think. Go see Donnelly on her current tour.
Well, since Donnelly hails from Perth, it has to be from the Margaret River, so why not a lovely 2015 Ribbon Vale Cabernet Sauvignon from Moss Wood Winery.