When Stella Donnelly showed up for this Tiny Desk performance with just her guitar in hand, she immediately won the office over with her broad smile, warmth and good-natured sense of humor. It’s the kind of easy-going, open-hearted spirit that makes her one of the most affable live performers you’ll see. While there’s no doubting her sincerity, she’s also got a disarming way of making her often dark and brutal songs a little easier to take in.
For this set, she performed entirely new — and, as of this writing, unreleased — songs from her upcoming full-length debut, Beware of the Dogs. Opening with the title cut, Donnelly smiled cheerfully through the entire performance while reflecting on the horrors that often lurk beneath the surface of seemingly idyllic lives. “This street is haunted like a beast that doesn’t know its face is frightening to behold,” she sings. “All the painted little gnomes, smiling in a line, trying to get your vote.”
She follows with “U Owe Me” — a song that’s both comical and eviscerating as she describes a horrible boss she once worked for at a pub in Australia — before closing with what Donnelly describes as “a more run-of-the-mill breakup song” called “Allergies.”
Surprisingly, Donnelly chose not to play any of the songs that have gotten her to where she is in her young career — songs like 2017’s “Boys Will Be Boys” or last year’s “Talking,” two savagely frank examinations of misogyny and violence that earned her the reputation for being a fearless and uncompromising songwriter. But the new material demonstrates that her unflinching perspective and potent voice is only getting stronger.
Beware of the Dogs is out March 18 via Secretly Canadian.
- “Beware of the Dogs”
- “U Owe Me”
Producers: Robin Hilton, Morgan Noelle Smith; Creative Director: Bob Boilen; Audio Engineer: Josh Rogosin; Videographers: Morgan Noelle Smith, Kaylee Domzalski; Production Assistant: Brie Martin; Photo: Cameron Pollack/NPR