Rounder Records, 2004
REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 01/03/2005
There are few things in rock and roll I appreciate more than really good harmony vocals. Sure, there are moments when the raw sound of a single voice growling through the night air is the right choice, but the unique potency of lovingly arranged and enthusiastically sung harmony vocals has been a key ingredient of rock and roll acts from the Everly Brothers all the way down through Evan and Jaron.
This is the first thing that comes to mind listening to the BoDeans' new disc Resolution as the band's co-masterminds Sam Llanas and Kurt Neumann harmonize beautifully on Neumann's rollicking anthem "(We Can) Live," alternating lines between Neumann solo and the pair singing together.
"(We Can) Live" is also emblematic of this album's emphasis on bigger, bolder, more anthemic songs. Though the BoDeans scored their biggest chart hit with the wide-open jangle-fest "Closer To Free" (off 1993's Go Slow Down), the song was less than typical of their generally thoughtful, literate roots-rock.
This time around, after a long layoff for solo albums, a greatest hits collection, and a thankfully successful search for a new label, the BoDeans are feeling expansive once again. The first four songs on this disc are all big, loose, energetic rockers -- not to mention fun. Yes, cuts like Llanas's brooding rocker "Marianne" lean to the serious side, but exuberant numbers like Neumann's "Wild World" are full of welcome, playful touches that display the joy the guys poured into this album.
Among the other things the BoDeans excel at is using accordion, mandolin, Hammond organ and the occasional loop to add sweet highs and bright textures to their basic guitar-bass-drums arrangements. Case in point: the bluesy dynamics of "Two Souls" and the 4/4 backbeat of "Wild World" would sound only half as sweet in the absence of Michael Ramos's accordion.
This album also features some of Neumann's most aggressive, out-front electric guitar work, and it's tremendous stuff, full of both intensity and nuance. Llanas points to an example of how this affected the disc on the band's Web site; his own "Nobody Loves Me" started out life as a slow country ballad, until Neumann got ahold of it, ran a sinuous electric lead through it and turned it into a steady-burning revelation, one of the most genuinely passionate love songs I heard in 2004.
Other notes: "If It Makes You" is a terrific album-opener full of vision and urgency; "Slipping Into You" is surely the prettiest song ever written about driving around New Orleans; "Said 'Hello'" is giddy fun; and the brilliantly-crafted, Springsteen-esque "617" brims with potent details that resonate emotionally.
Listening to Resolution, it's hard not to conclude that Neumann and Llanas belong together, singing songs of purpose and passion. On this album, they re-establish their musical partnership with a disc of buoyant rockers and thoughtful story-songs that will stay with you long after the music fades. Resolution is, quite simply, one of 2004's best.