Mary Timony

The Golden Dove (Matador)

On Mary Timony's first solo effort, Mountains, the former Helium frontperson flitted so far into her enchanted forest that many listeners got lost in the mist. Luckily, on her new album, The Golden Dove, she leaves some bread crumbs to keep us on her trail -- even as it winds through a lyrical menagerie of peacocks, owls, lambs, and tigers.

Timony first showcased her fantasy side on The Magic City, Helium's successful, if wacky, concept album from 1997. Song titles like "Lullaby of the Moths" notwithstanding, Magic Cityremained accessible, fusing fairy-tale imagery with frenetic rock. Unfortunately, when Timony wandered out on her own in 2000, she lost much of the grit that kept her Boston-based band interesting, shrugging off heavy guitars in favor of medieval instrumentation that fell tragically -- and oftentimes comically -- flat.

On The Golden Dove, Timony strikes a more satisfying balance between her raucous past and her supernatural present. Although the record still tends toward laughable lyrics, Timony's current muse offers some Liz Phair to balance out the C.S. Lewis. On "Look a Ghost in the Eye," the first and best track, her dreamy vocals vie with growling guitar and organic violin, for a song that's both catchy and edgy. Likewise, Timony's pop-punk sensibilities resurface on "Blood Tree," which brings to mind '90s altrock icons Veruca Salt and Velocity Girl. Over a swirl of guitars, Timony sings in her spooky alto, "Hey baby with the wounded knee/ You got caught up in Cripple Creek/ Hanging out with the Jesus freaks/ Let me show you what it means to me," proving she can still write nicely esoteric lyrics that aren't about unicorns. And despite a dangerously Dungeons & Dragons-esque spelling, "Musik and Charming Melodee" is a solid rock number whose Renaissance-era accents -- rhythmic violins, a guitar that apes a harpsichord -- actually help the tune, rather than overwhelm it.

But as the album winds on, Timony slips too far into court-minstrel mode, constructing songs that contain all the energy of a funeral dirge. On "14 Horses" she lends torturously slow vocals to a dragging melody, while on "Magic Power" she offers a silly sea shanty that sinks straight to the bottom of the ocean.

Ultimately, The Golden Dove only hints at the powerful punch needed to help listeners navigate Timony's ethereal haze. But the album's strong start shows she's capable of flavoring her magical potion with a pinch of good old-fashioned girl rock, if only she'd come down to earth more often.

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