Happy Thighs, 2003
REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 06/11/2004
For more than ten years, Ken Rockwood and Danielle Brancaccio have created chill-out folk music under the name Professor and Maryann. Yes, it's hard not to think of Gilligan, even though listening to the first few chords of "Bible and a Gun" put to rest any sense that this is a novelty band. This is not "A Mighty Wind" type of folk, folks.
The duo's latest release, Runaway Favorite, is lush, expertly crafted and full of smart, intelligent lyrics. And as a result, it's probably not the album that will break them into the mainstream. No matter, this is still a worthy purchase, even for non-folk lovers.
It's impossible for music geeks to talk about other aspects of an album without overly obsessing over the vocals of a strong female vocalist, and Danielle Brancaccio is no exception. Her deceptively warbly voice brings comparison to Marianne Faithfull or Michelle Shocked. The weakest tracks on Runaway Favorite, such as "World of Clowns," are the ones that do not showcase her vocal range.
That's not to say that Brancaccio carries Professor and Maryann. Ken Rockwood's guitar work is solid throughout Runaway Favorite. Kudos also go to drummer Paul Devito, who provides a solid backbone and muscle throughout this disc. The inclusion of cello and violin give the album a sound that brings comparisons to Jon Brion's arrangements on Aimee Mann's best efforts and the soundtrack to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
Occasionally, Professor and Maryann stumble upon typical coffee house-type clichés. "Wish Symphony" is overly cheesy and the duo has way too much talent to come up with a chorus like "Your Love is like a chariot/let's run" on the song "Chariot." Still, when the duo takes artistic risks, they usually pay off, such as in the closing song, "Ten Tubas."
This disc may take a few listens to fully sink in, but Rockwood and Brancaccio give you reason to keep returning. If you like your music filled with melancholy, Runaway Favorite is a worthy purchase. "On such a dreary day / When love has strayed / And all of the taxies are taken / I'll grab my coat," Brancaccio sings on "Roof of the World." It's scenes such as this that would even make Belle and Sebastian crack a wry grin.