Wednesday, April 22, 2009

April 22: The Lemonheads, "It's A Shame About Ray"

Artist: The Lemonheads
Album: The Lemonheads
Year: 1992
Label: Atlantic

The so-called "triple threat" in music comes around once in a generation. This anomaly occurs when you have an artist who possess amazing writing skills, a heavenly voice, and enough good looks to garner a fervent legion of fans, both male and female. As the son of a fashion model, it is little surprise that underground icon Evan Dando easily filled the last part of this equation. To prove he possessed the other necessary components, one needs to look no further than the 1992 release from his legendary band, The Lemonheads. Combining various genres and forming them into flawless, addictively sweet pop songs, The Lemonheads created one of the greatest pop/rock albums ever with their classic record, It's A Shame About Ray.

It is a rather rare occasion when one can claim artists as diverse as Hüsker Dü and Graham Parsons as the primary influences of a band. However, with The Lemonheads, the ideals of both of these artists, as well as the "alternative" ideals of groups like R.E.M. and Sonic Youth can clearly be heard. A majority of The Lemonheads catalog before It's A Shame About Ray is far more aggressive, giving a more clear view of their punk influences. On this album, Dando crafts perfect pop songs at nearly every turn, making the record one of the most enjoyably addictive albums in history. Records like It's A Shame About Ray provided the perfect soundtrack for the blossoming "alternative" movement of the early 1990's, as it could be enjoyed by the "flannel and Doc Marten's" crowd as much as the pseudo-hippies or punkers. To put it simply, It's A Shame About Ray is one of the most universally appealing albums ever recorded.

The lineup of musicians on It's A Shame About Ray is so impressive that it cannot be overlooked. With Dando handling lead vocals and lead guitar duties, the musicians that filled out the recording sessions are notable in their own right. Jeff "Skunk" Baxter, perhaps best known for his work with Steely Dan and The Doobie Brothers, contributes a decent amount of guitar playing to the record and provides a brilliant contrast to Dando. Assisting Dando by playing bass, as well as singing sensational backing vocals throughout, It's A Shame About Ray features another rising artist named Juliana Hatfield. The duo of Dando and Hatfield is absolutely stunning, and their paired vocals are nothing short of magnificent. Drummer Dave Ryan lends the perfect backbeat, adding in non-traditional percussion sounds which help to add amazing textures throughout the album. However, each of the musicians is well aware of their place on the record, which is behind Dando's amazing songwriting and singing.

Throughout It's A Shame About Ray, the music of The Lemonheads serves as a testament to how skilled a writer lives in Evan Dando. Writing music which ranges from punk-fused rockers all the way to alt-country ballads, the one constant is that each song is equally as beautiful as the others. At the core of Dando's writing is the fact that everything he composes is extremely catchy, and brings a pop/rock brand of upbeat "fun" in every song. Dando's love for punk lays under many of the albums' more speedy tunes, such as the fantastic "Kitchen," yet it is not overpowering to the point where it will turn away listeners. With the album clocking in at just under a half hour, the punk influence goes further with the fact that an overwhelming majority of the songs on It's A Shame About Ray are quick-hitting, angst-infused, power-chord based anthems. Dando is able to take acoustic guitars and give them enough attitude and soul to avoid the juxtaposition between the light instrumentation and hard music becoming cliché.

Nearly as diverse as the music he writes, there are few singers whose names can be mentioned in the same breath as Evan Dando. Overall warm and friendly, the voice of Evan Dando can very much be described as a "boy next door" sound. This mood is further reinforced by the fact that many of the songs on It's A Shame About Ray speak of suburban angst and tales of middle class outcasts. These facts further aided Dando in becoming an underground hero for hordes of youth across the world. Having a seemingly endless vocal range, his full, strong voice helped to catapult him to international fame. From slow, crooning ballads to spunky rockers, Dando sounds nothing short of perfect on each and every song. At times, on the more punk-based songs, Dando's vocals border on sounding like a more sonically pleasing Joey Ramone. Whether singing about longing for love, the discovery of new music, or raging teenage angst, the voice of Evan Dando became the underground voice of a generation, and he sings flawlessly on each song found on It's A Shame About Ray.

For anyone who was aware of music in the early 1990's, Evan Dando will forever hold a much revered spot in their hearts. Easily one of the most talented singer-songwriters ever, Dando composed the perfect soundtrack for the "alternative" generation of music lovers. Combining elements of punk and country, Dando created some of the most outstanding, original music of the past twenty years. With it's constantly changing lineup, the members of The Lemonheads who recorded It's A Shame About Ray were easily the most impressive grouping of the band over the thirty years in which it has existed. Releasing seven albums in ten years, The Lemonheads remain one of the most beloved bands of the music explosion of the 1990's. Their 1992 release, It's A Shame About Ray is truly as good as albums get, and is undoubtedly one of the most essential records for every music collection.

Standout tracks: "It's A Shame About Ray," "(My Drug) Buddy," and "Alison's Starting To Happen."

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