When I Was You
Monarch Records, 2000
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 06/09/2000
Well, whattya know -- a 10,000 Maniacs revival!
Okay, not really -- besides, it's hard to have a revival when the original band is still churning away (albeit out of the spotlight of the major labels). But damned if Vagabond Lovers doesn't sound a lot like a more ambitious 10,000 Maniacs on their disc When I Was You. Even lead singer/guitarist Patty Spiglanin looks a little like Natalie Merchant.
What this sextet does that sets them apart is they dare to throw in a little more variety in terms of musical influences, moving from solid pop-rockers to folk-driven numbers with a natural smoothness. And although the mixture gets a little boring at times, it never is bland.
For the first couple of cuts on When I Was You, it seems like Vagabond Lovers can do absolutely no wrong. From their take on the song "Junkie" to the folk-tinged post-breakup song "For Sale Sign," the band quickly sets themselves apart from the pack as one you want to pay close attention to.
Their stellar record continues on and off throughout the album. They choose an interesting song to cover -- "Drive" from The Cars -- and give it almost a Sixpence None The Richer feel thanks to to the accordion of Mike Conner. It doesn't have quite the emotion that the original does (and I admit I never was a big fan of the original version), but it is executed well. Other songs worthy of praise include "I Got Killed," "Kitchen" and "Living Independently."
Where When I Was You falls a bit short is that Vagabond Lovers can't maintain the constant level of excellence throughout the album - and when they stumble, things get to sounding a bit sleepy. Tracks like "Wonderful Thing," "Division Street" and "You Make It Easy" just don't seem like they can live up to their potential -- and that's a little disappointing.
There has been a lot of buzz about When I Was You in the press and among listeners; for the most part, it is well deserved. Vagabond Lovers prove on this disc they still have some improvements to make, but this is a solid effort that shows they're on their way.