Aimee Mann, Donny Brown, Girls Just Want to Have Fun, Give Me a Sweetheart, Hess Street, Hummingbird, I Will Go, Jim Adkins, Jimmy Eats World, Milwaukee, Now You Can Break My Heart, Ted Leo, The Both, The Verve Pipe, Volunteers of America
When artists go solo or come around sporting a new band the results can split three ways. They might come back sounding pretty much like they did when they left, which sometimes turns out well (I guess she really was the band …) or leads to disaster (hm, he really should have stuck it out with the other guys …). But sometimes they return with a markedly different sound, a result that some find disappointing but I often find refreshing and exciting. This post features three different artists defying expectations on their second time around.
Jim Adkins is the lead singer for Jimmy Eat World and you couldn’t get a more different take on him that this solo EP. The title track, “I Will Go,” kicks things off with sprightly clean acoustic guitar rhythm and a lovely swinging melody, later adding horns and electric guitar to what is a solid single. He applies a similar fresh treatment to Beck’s “Don’t Act Like Your Heart Isn’t Hard.” Things get a bit edgier with his interesting take on an Everly Brothers’ b-side, “Give Me a Sweetheart,” featuring a double tracked harmony vocal and a guitar with an ominous rumble. But the EP’s highlight has to be his bleached-out, on-tender-hooks version of “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.” Adkins deliberately avoids hitting all the familiar notes of Lauper’s mega-hit arrangement, revealing a remarkably flexible tune underneath all Cyndi’s fun flash. I Will Go is a winner: every track on this six song release is value for money. I Will GoGive Me a SweetheartGirls Just Want to Have Fun
Drummers get a bad rap. Other than keeping time, expectations of what they will contribute are often low. They are seldom the singer or songwriter for their respective group. But here Donny Brown defies expectations. As drummer for the grungy nineties Verve Pipe, Brown gradually expanded his influence on the band from just playing his instrument early on to contributing nearly half the songs to their 2001 album Underneath. But nothing could prepare us for Brown’s solo outings where he writes, sings, plays guitar and drums, and goes in a completely different direction than his other gig. Brown has a great soft rock vocal style and the tunes on his first EP, Hess Street, run the gamut from lush spot-on 1970s pop (“Bitter Rival”) to amazing tin pan alley recreations (“Call Me”). A real stand out is the opening track, the McCartney-esque “Lucky Number” with its intriguing melodic twists and Band on the Run lead guitar. His follow up EP, the self-titled Donny Brown, continues in the 1970s vein with tracks like “Life of a Stranger” and “Reach Out” but increases the hook factor on other contributions, echoing just a bit of ELO at times. The marvelous “Now You Can Break My Heart” is a poprock masterpiece that will get in your head and stay there.
Is this the second or third time around for Aimee Mann? Ok, we’re bending the rules here to include The Both, her collaboration with Ted Leo. I can’t help but think that this record sounds like the one she could have recorded with hubby Michael Penn before he banished himself to scoring movies, if their few collaborative singles are anything to go by. But, no matter, this debut is a killer. Of our trio of offerings, it also represents the least departure from the artists’ original formula. Overall, it may sound a bit tougher than Mann’s solo material at times, but the songs are indelibly Mann-esque, with all her clever turns of phrase both lyrically and musically. While there are no weak tracks here I certainly hit replay on “Milwaukee,” “Volunteers of America,” and “Hummingbird.” If you’re a Mann fan, this is a must have. It will also have you checking out Leo’s back catalogue with Ted Leo and the Pharmacists (hint: start with “Bottled in Cork”).MilwaukeeVolunteers of AmericaHummingbird
Talk about missed opportunities – I managed to miss most of these acts when they blew through town. If only I’d paid more attention to the Jim Adkins, Donny Brown and The Both websites. Don’t let that happen to you.