Tanya Donelly has kept busy during lockdown, releasing a series of one-off singles and EPs on her Bandcamp site (tanyadonelly.bandcamp.com) with proceeds going to a rotating selection of charities, as well as local musicians and the staffs of local clubs that had been shut down (temporarily and permanently) by this year’s pandemic. Assisted by collaborators like her Belly bandmate Gail Greenwood, the Hot Stove Cool Music collective Band of Our Own, and Buffalo Tom frontman Bill Janovitz, Donelly released intimate covers of pop standards and modern-rock touchstones throughout the spring.
“Tanya Donelly and the Parkington Sisters,” out Friday, was recorded before lockdown. Yet it continues Donelly’s covers project, paying homage to nine songs that helped shape her pop-rooted, yet wide-spanning musical outlook. She’s joined by the Wellfleet family band the Parkington Sisters — Rose on guitar and piano, Sarah and Ariel on violin and viola, all on vocals, their sister Lydia adding cello here and there — and together, they show their obvious affection for their source material, giving reworks that exude warmth and reverence. The arrangements add intricately arranged strings and Donelly’s lithe voice to classic cuts like Leonard Cohen’s 1984 brood “Dance Me to the End of Love” and the Pretenders’ chugging 1979 track “Kid.”
The opening cover of “Automatic,” a smoldering Jane Wiedlin-penned track that appeared on the Go-Go’s 1981 debut “Beauty and the Beat,” is a slightly more delicate take on the pop-punk pioneers’ original, with pizzicato strings swapped in for the Go-Gos’ razor-wire guitars, and an E-Bow, played by Rose, that enhances the thousand-yard-stare mood of the lyrics. Their version of Echo and the Bunnymen’s mini-epic “Ocean Rain” gets its vibe from creeping harmonics at first, eventually building to a sweeping string flourish that feels like a sudden summer downpour. Their loose-limbed take on Wings’ 1974 cut “Let Me Roll It” highlights the interplay between four- and six-stringed instruments with swagger and gusto, and its closing breakdown sounds like it could have stretched on far into the night. And “Different Drum,” the Michael Nesmith-penned plea that became the first hit for Linda Ronstadt when she sang it with the Stone Poneys in 1967, gets a beautifully realized makeover, with the string arrangement echoing the original’s in form while possessing a slightly more homegrown spirit.
A rework of Canadian pop enigma Mary Margaret O’Hara’s “You Will Be Loved Again” closes the album; it’s as much of a stunner as the 1988 original, which was a stark showcase for O’Hara’s quivering soprano. Donelly and the Parkington Sisters keep the minimalist arrangement but add vocal harmonies that give extra hope to the comfort offered by its lyrics; Donelly’s performance exhibits grace not only toward the sentiment, but to the artistry of the song itself. It’s a fitting send-off to a highly enjoyable love letter to pop and the people who make it.
Livestreamed listening parties of “Tanya Donelly and the Parkington Sisters” will take place at 3 p.m. Friday on Newbury Comics’ Twitter, twitter.com/newburycomics, and at 8 p.m. on Friday at Once Somerville’s ONCE VV, oncesomerville.com.