He & He LP, 2008

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


The word that comes to mind when the BoDeans -- a.k.a. musical partners Sammy Llanas and Kurt Neumann -- come up, is dependable.

There are qualities you know you’re going to find on any BoDeans disc – sturdy guitar hooks, supple harmonies, penetrating lyrics -- and then there are the extras.  Yes, Neumann and Llanas travel in the well-worn footsteps of Americana roots-rockers from Dylan to Springsteen to Mellencamp, but their partnership offers so much more dimension than that description might imply.  You can see how each – for they are both accomplished singer-songwriters in their own right -- might have considered going solo at some point, and you can see exactly why they’ve always come back to the BoDeans.  Llanas adds something special to every Neumann tune, and Neumann returns the favor on every Llanas track.  Neumann is more the barroom rocker and Llanas more the introspective crooner, but they clearly share a deep respect for each other’s strengths as writers and players, and their partnership produces work more potent and textured than either is likely to create alone.

Still is the BoDeans’ first foray into the brave new frontier of d-i-y.  After a decade and six albums with Slash/Reprise, the boys went quiet for several years around the turn of the century, before resurfacing on Zoe Records with 2004’s magnificent my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Resolution.  To a large extent Still picks up right where Resolution left off, a series of statements of faith -- mostly personal rather than spiritual -- and resilience, set to beautifully crafted heartland rock. 

That said, “Pretty Ghost“ is an odd choice for an opener, a moody cut dominated my Llanas’s appropriately spooky lead vocals and an echoey, distorted riff.  When second track “Round Here Somewhere” kicks in, though, you’re back on familiar ground, Neumann belting out a thoughtful, upbeat rock tune with Llanas’ harmony vocals lighting up the fringes.

“Lucille” works up a good sweat exercising a dirty blues riff and giving it some thrash between verses, and “The First Time” launches the boys into orbit with a piece of true BoDeans magic, sinewy guitar lines backing sinuous harmony vocals and creating a kind of rock and roll choir.  The lyric has the same timeless feel as any Springsteen or Mellencamp classic; they’re speaking in plain yet poetic language about iconic experiences in anyone’s lives, making the universal personal and vice versa.  “This could be the only moment we got / Let’s not waste a lifetime waiting” they sing at the fulcrum of the superb breakdown-and-build in “Waste A Lifetime,” again tapping into primal emotions and situations anyone can recognize.

There is nothing flashy about the BoDeans, and that’s surely part of the reason their one commercial success -- when their song “Closer To Free” was chosen as the theme song to the 1990s TV hit Party Of Five -- turned out to be such a fluke.  T-Bone Burnett -- who produced the album (Go Slow Down) from which “Closer To Free” was plucked, as well as the band’s critically acclaimed debut -- is back in the producer’s chair for Still, and the trio sounds as comfortable and confident as ever together.

Still is probably as perfect a title for this album as you could ask for; these guys clearly don’t believe in change for change’s sake, and choose instead to load this album with more of the same things that have always made the BoDeans such a dependably good listen.  They still harmonize with the best of them, still craft memorable hooks, still know when to rock out and when to reach for your heart.  Their resilience is as central to their music as to their own story.  Long may they run.

Rating: B+

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© 2008 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of He & He LP, and is used for informational purposes only.