Aimee Mann isn’t a physically demanding performer. She doesn’t run up and down stage ramps and there are no drums, fog machines or Marshall stacks anymore. No smoke and mirrors, no slight of hand on this night’s acoustic based show. If anything, this reluctant star chooses to remain close to the supporting musicians, accepting applause with bowed head, side-glances and humble demeanor. From “Voices Carry” to the Oscar-nominated “Save Me,” Mann has always been known for her clever and dry wit takes on emotional sabotage and self-destruction. With song craft often compared with the Beatles and Badfinger, (I also say Joni Mitchell and Chrissie Hynde) Mann frequently pairs the bleakest of poetry with soaring, infectious melodies.
Accompanied by Paul Bryan on bass and Jamie Edwards on piano, two phenomenal players that have also worked with Grant Lee Phillips, Aimee launched straight into a smorgasbord from her catalog including much from her @#%&*! Smilers album that was produced by Paul Bryan, and features guest appearances by singer-songwriter Sean Hayes, who duets with Mann’s father on the track “Ballantines,” and author Dave Eggers, who whistles on “Little Tornado.”
The Moth, actually not from @#%&*! Smilers (from 2002 Lost In Space) kicked things off and featured a clever word play that sports the great line, “The moth don’t care when he sees the flame, he might get burned but he’s in the game.” The trio bounced upbeat and in time and there wasn’t a drummer in sight. I’ve heard a band version of this as well and I would love to see the Smithereens cover this great song.
As the set unwound for the Strand crowd, you could see Aimee loosen up as well, cracking the occasional smile and being funny to the point of getting the whole place laughing between guitar tune-up wise cracks or stopping the song “Freeway” in mid part to comment about the size of the Strand and its resounding reverb saying, “Is it just me or is this place really, really big?”
“Freeway” is songwriting at its best. Mann’s phrasing is classic, holding back where others would tread all over the verse. While Mann’s lyrics can be somewhat esoteric at times, the bridge is the quintessential set up for the explosive chorus. This is a crossover monster and I’m surprised Nashville hasn’t picked up on it yet. Mann’s unique voice reminds me of that Chrissie Hynde lineage at times but for the most part, it’s all Aimee and she’s mesmerizing on the tune.
The voyeuristic viewpoint of “Little Bombs’” rings minor-keyed and claustrophobic as Mann describes life inside a “cell of the Lennox hotel.” Janice Ian and Joni Mitchell influences abound beautifully. “31 Today” is one of my favorites of the night and captures the anxiety of getting older and feeling that you should have it together more than you do. As her character sings: “Drinking Guinness in the afternoon. Taking shelter in the black cocoon. I thought my life would be different somehow. I thought my life would be better by now.”
“Medicine Wheel” is the dark jeweled song co-written by Mann’s sister (poet Gretchen Seichrist) featuring piano work by Aimee. “Medicine Wheel” is a stark, intimate look at the battle of conflict, betrayal and damaged trust. I loved how Jamie Edwards came out to play the piano lead and when it was over, he slipped back off the stage and into the curtains, coming out to play the end tag on organ.
I’m out of room but Aimee Mann went through 16 songs and three encores that also included a great vamped version of Three Dog Night’s “One Is The Loneliest Number” and encore number two, “She Really Wants You,” where as audience members started bellowing out requests from all over the theater. Aimee quietly eyed them, smiled and said, “We’ve picked out a selection of songs that we feel would be appropriate for you.” Meaning, we’re playing what we want to play and that’s pretty much that. The audience chuckled at her endearing demeanor.
I for one am glad, because everything she chose fit like a glove. This is one songwriter who has joined that secret society of reinvention and has played it well. Her songs, style and voice are addictive and original. And while you probably won’t be hearing Voices Carry anytime soon, Aimee Mann has something to say and I can only hope she’ll enlighten us for years to come. For more information on Aimee’s ongoing tour or her music, head over to aimeemann.com and check out the Strand in Lakewood for other spectacular shows at strand.org.
Antony Walker-The Sea Goes On Forever
Walker’s interim EP titled The Sea Goes On Forever marks the return to his original roots sound and drifts him further and further out to sea from the direction of The Medicine Chest. That’s not a terrible thing. For years I have said that Anthony’s strength is in his ability to still a crowd with his emotionally-toned voice and Montana-wide song arrangements. That’s not to say that he can’t rock it with the best of them, I just think it’s a blessing to able to say it all with a guitar and your voice. Many cannot accomplish that feat and make it sound truly unique. Walker can do that in spades and his storytelling expertise will never hurt him when it come to publishing, performance and marketability. The Sea Goes On Forever sees Walker surrounded not only by great songs, but also excellent players and producers that earn their salt on the EP.
“Song For the Willing” raises George Harrison-esque, ebbing with double-chimed, bell-clear guitar tones courtesy of Justin Gallo, and supported with the honey-dripping glide of Nicole Scorsone (viola) and Ardith Collins (cello.) Walker himself makes good use of phrasing here, spacing lyrics and taking his time to set up the song like climbing a set of stairs, rising step by step within dynamic and focused arrangement right to the top. Desolate and eloquent, “Song for the Willing” will move you to its plateau before you know its even over.
The romantic Smoky mountain barn dance vibe of “Rosie” features the lazy, hazy Dobro work of Andrew Keenan. Keenan, who, along with the back porch banjo picking of Amanda Duncan, drive the tune while Walker’s six string finger-picking lends an air of genuine pink house panache to this song. Trumpets are riverbed subtle and courtesy of John Molloy.
The slow hand downturn of “I Hope This Helps” is Anthony Walker at his original best. The production of Joanna Burns is immensely sensible here and the cello arrangements enhance Walker’s vocal with pristine entrances that recede after they’ve made their point. Joanna Burns, who I’ve discussed here before, is one of the best singers I have ever heard, so to have her on background vocals is just extra money in the bank.
It’s also interesting to see engineering work coming from the talented Amanda Duncan who continues to surprise all of us. You don’t hear much from this crew as far as what their business recipes and formulas might be, and maybe that’s good. They don’t want too many cooks in the kitchen when they are releasing material of this high-caliber. The full-length is due shortly and if it matches the promise shown here, it will be well worth purchasing. For further info on Anthony Walker and The Sea Goes On Forever, swim on over to anthony-walker.com.