Aimee Mann: A smile is just an upside-down frown |

Aimee Mann: A smile is just an upside-down frown

Stewart OksenhornThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado
Stewart Oksenhorn/The Aspen TimesLos Angeles singer-songwriter Aimee Mann has released the album, @#%&*! Smilers.

Here are mini-reviews of current releases:

produced by Paul Bryan (SuperEgo Records)Aimee Mann is a pretty woman, whose mouth has a distinctive downturn. Which is probably why her new album curses at people who smile she cant, not like most of us, anyway.The Los Angeles singer-songwriter rarely trades in concrete stories here, or anything close to it. But she doesnt need to; her imagery and snippets of narrative are sufficient to create a dim, treacherous world. Its like an unknown drunk whispering little words of nonsense in your ears in some dirty bar that you shouldnt be in in the first place except in that setting, and the way theyre delivered, those words light up with meaning, urgency and warning.What you do know is that whats being said isnt especially happy news. Theres cautionary advice about the evils of money in the chugging opening track Freeway, about someone who has the cash, but somehow cant use it, at least not to any proper purpose. In Phoenix, about getting the hell out of a bad romantic situation, Mann claims, Ive had my fill/ You love me like a dollar bill/ You roll me up and trade me in. All these tableaux take place in the down-and-out: trailer parks, dead end streets, tattoo parlors and in Phoenix, its particularly vivid, where the tumbleweeds said their goodbyes/ To javelinas and DUIs.Manns voice, over a distinctive pop setting that updates meticulous, lush, Dusty Springfield-esque pop, registers as a resignation to these dreary corners. Sure, @#%&*! those smilers how can anyone smile in a world like this? No wonder Manns mouth turns down at the corners.

produced by Liam Watson (Hear Music)In 2006, James Hunter made his U.S. debut with People Gonna Talk, a spot-on recreation of Sam Cooke. People Gonna Talk was impeccably tasteful, and in its way, unique not so much because Hunter is a white Brit, but because who else is mining the phenomenal Cooke?So I was way-interested in hearing Hunters follow-up, to see if he cared to modernize that late-50s/early-60s style. On The Hard Way, Hunter stays gloriously glued to that bygone era, but remarkably, he also manages to expand. The trick is that Hunter apparently digs not only Sam Cooke, but the whole pre-Beatles bag of black music. He nods to James Brown, Little Richard, Ray Charles, surf guitarist Dick Dale and doo-wop, expands into the bluesier realm on Til the End, and on Dont Do Me No Favours, Hunter, on guitar, and organist Kyle Koehler move into the soul-groove style that had its heyday in the 50s. Hunters songs and style are strong enough that it never feels like hes copying, just honoring.

produced by McMurtry (Lightning Rod Records)The Texas singer-songwriter basically has two modes on Just Us Kids, and they both add up to the same idea: That life in present-day America is brutal, and probably the only way out of the misery is substantial doses of something drugs, or self-delusion.The two modes McMurtry uses are story songs, in which he creates his own characters, or shotgun blasts at real-life persons he only wishes were made up. In the former category is Bayou Tortous, in which the narrator, fed up with nights of watching bad TV with a woman he somehow got hitched to, ends up lookin through the hole in the bottom of my heart. Also in the fictional realm are the titular Ruby and Carlos, who have lived through the American nightmare military, financial instability, cigarette addiction, unrealized desires before they stumbled on that slippery slope in the final scene.On the other side of the reality divide are Cheneys Toy, a savage critique of the clueless peon who is no longer Daddys boy … only Cheneys toy. McMurtrys voices drips with acid, and the guitars bite hard as he describes the damage the schrapnel in his brain brought about by official U.S. deceit.God Bless America, a chilling rant about gasoline addiction, is subtitled Pat mAcdonald Must Die, a reference to the Texas musician known best as the leader of Timbuk3, while Youd aThought gets the subtitle Leonard Cohen Must Die. The implication seems to be that the state this country has been brought to is like a stake to the heart of visionaries, dreamers and poets.James McMurtry performs Aug. 2 at Belly Up Aspen.

produced by Garry West and Emmitt (Compass Records)Colorado string-man Drew Emmitt, best-known for his work in Leftover Salmon, is so embedded in the roots of acoustic music that no matter what he does play a cover of Supertramps Take the Long Way Home, say; or sprinkle drums and a Hammond B3 organ liberally through an album; or electrify his mandolin he never lands far from something traditional and familiar. Its easy to argue that Emmitt is best when he stays closest to old-school bluegrass; the version of his Gold Hill Line here rips, and aside from the drums, its all acoustic. But the reggae lilt and organ lines to Beat of the World, or the rocking electric guitar solo on Take the Highway add a texture that makes Long Road accessible to a far wider audience.

produced by Steve Jordan and Los Lonely Boys (Epic)What needs to be forgiven here? Oh yeah, the fact that Los Lonely Boys, a West Texas trio of brothers Henry, Ringo and JoJo Garza, have wasted their talents making this schlocky, unimaginative album. The idea that this may all be intentional seems far-fetched but then you listen to the horrendous production on Loving You Always, how awkwardly the drums come in on a lame cover of Steve Winwoods Im A Man, and how the album lurches from one track to the next. It seems like piling-on to add that the songs are lame accounts of romance (Love Dont Care About Me, Another Broken Heart), but since were talking forgiveness, lets handle it all at

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