By Michael Swanger firstname.lastname@example.org
BoDeans continue to evolve their sincere lyricism, heartfelt melodies, rich guitar sound
Twenty-four years after their 1986 debut album, “Love & Hope & Sex & Dreams,” led them to win a Rolling Stone reader’s poll as “The Best New American Band,” The BoDeans are still rocking and harmonizing, but getting better.
Their 2010 album, “Mr. Sad Clown,” with its stripped down, dramatic instrumentation, heartfelt harmonies, memorable melodies and honest lyrics on 15 new, original songs like “If...,” “Say Goodbye” and “Today,” further establishes The BoDeans as one of America’s premier roots-rock bands. Longtime fans will appreciate how it cuts to the core of the artistic magic between co-founding, singers-guitarists Kurt Neumann and Sam Llanas, who formed a musical collaboration in high school during the late 1970s in Milwaukee.
“It’s some of our best writing and playing,” said Neumann. “I don’t think making records is our forte compared to our live shows. But to me, this record is the best we’ve done with that. We’ve learned a lot over the years, and I’m proud of it.”
Neumann, 47, is equally proud that The BoDeans’ ninth studio album has a more adult perspective, proving that a rock band can age gracefully by avoiding trend-free music and focusing on mature themes (everyday life, family, love and society) that appeal to them and their core fan base.
“It has more of a middle-aged perspective, which isn’t a pretty term in this industry,” Neumann said. “You’re not a kid singing about trying to escape your hometown and finding a girl to run off with into the sunset. You’ve done that, and this is what’s beyond that.”
Though “Mr. Sad Clown” might be aimed at Baby Boomer and Generation X fans, Neumann said he hopes that anyone who appreciates good songwriting, regardless of his or her age, will like it.
“I don’t expect someone who likes the Jonas Brothers to identify with this. I didn’t try to grab their attention,” he said. “Then again, I’ve noticed fans bringing their children to our shows and they know the words to our songs.”
Neumann said a YouTube clip of a family singing “Good Things” while traveling together in a car made him realize that The BoDeans have become a multigenerational band.
“It surprised me,” he said. “I felt like, ‘Wow, you’ve been in peoples’ worlds, and it’s far more important than being on the cover of Rolling Stone.’”
More important than fleeting fame, Neumann said, is maintaining his collaboration with Llanas. Neumann, lives outside Austin, Texas, while Llanas is still based in Milwaukee. “Mr. Sad Clown” was recorded in Texas, where Neumann did most of the work, mixing and producing the album, as well as playing guitar, drums, bass and keys. Llanas would fly to Texas so they could add vocal parts.
“This album was different because we did most of it ourselves, which really makes this a pure BoDeans album,” Neumann said. “Songwriting-wise, though, not much has changed the way we do that.”
Neumann said Llanas plans to record another solo album next. The duo previously took a break in the late 1990s to record solo albums before reuniting to record 2004’s “Resolution.”
“I think he has plans to do that, which means I’ll probably have nothing else to do but release my own record,” Neumann said. “I don’t know if there will be another BoDeans record next.”
What Neumann is certain of, though, is the musical chemistry he shares with Llanas.
“It’s the only thing that keeps us together,” he said. “It’s a passion for music and playing rock and roll. It seems that any problems you have get solved at midnight when you’re onstage hitting a power chord.” CV
The BoDeans kick off the 2010 Nitefall on the River series with a performance on Thursday, May 27 at 7 p.m. at Simon Estes Amphitheater. Tickets are $12 through Midwestix or at the gate. Children 10 and under are admitted free.