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Cirque Du Soleil
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Patricia Barber
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Cirque Du Soleil
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Julius Curcio
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"Come Alive"
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Rising Stars [Issue #15]
Aimee Mann: A Mann Stands Alone
By Dave Lewis
The Forgotten Arm (CD Superego)

LA-based singer-songwriter Aimee Mann has quite a few stories to tell. After the multi-platinum success of her band, ‘Til Tuesday, four critically acclaimed solo records and, a decade’s worth of troubles with various record companies, Mann is now heading out on a new kind of adventure: releasing a concept album.

The Forgotten Arm (on Mann’s SuperEgo Records) is a stellar collection of loosely- related songs. The album’s second track, “King of the Jailhouse,” sets the scene as listeners follow a drug-addled boxer named John and his troubled lover Caroline on a cross-country trip. Mann’s songs have always had a “story-time” quality to them, and Arm seems like a natural step for her craft. All the tracks work well by themselves, but the disc plays even better as a whole.

“I don’t really know a lot of concept albums,” said Mann in a recent phone interview, “I always think of them as a prog-rock, cape-wearing, Stonehenge-y kind of thing. I think my approach was more as if I was writing songs for a soundtrack. That was probably because once I had this song that was about people running off together, I immediately got all these pictures of scenes from road movies like Two-Lane Blacktop and Easy Rider.”

Working on 1999’s Oscar-nominated Magnolia soundtrack with writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson strengthened Mann’s music-as-imaginary cinema ideology. “One of the scenes I had in my head was a scene from his first movie Hard Eight where Gwyneth Paltrow and John C. Reilly run off together.”

However, the singer didn’t set out to write a lovers-on-the-run rock opera. “Songs that are written over a specific period of time tend to sort of orbit around the same concept,” Mann explained. “‘King of the Jailhouse’ was so specifically about two characters and I sort of got a mental picture from that song and I thought, ‘why not have these same characters and have them carry the concepts that are in the songs anyway?”

On the production side, Mann was lent a hand by acclaimed singer-songwriter-producer Joe Henry, who added a fun, improvisational vibe to the tracks’ rootsy sound. “I wanted to make a record that sounded very different than the last record, and I wanted to do it a different way,” she said. Having an outside producer helped bring out the best in Mann. “He can be more objective,” she said of Henry, “and it’s a lot easier to have an outside ear. The main thing is that he’s a great songwriter so he knows the value of a song and how to treat a song.’”

Adding Henry to the mix opened up some new avenues for Mann. Recorded in just five days with an ace four-piece backing band, the album features few overdubs and plays like an intimate live show. “His genius of production is that he picks the perfect people,” Mann said, “and knows that they’re gonna come up with great stuff.” The resulting sound is loose and even a little jammy, revealing similarities to southern rock and alt-country.

It’s safe to say that Arm’s ambitiousness would have been curtailed had Mann tried to record it for a major label. After suffering several label-related headaches on her first three albums, she now steers clear of music conglomerates and makes music her own way. “I don’t really know what the state of the music business is right now,” revealed Mann. “I’m just so thankful that I don’t have to deal with that. It’s so bureaucratic and weirdly ego-based and not even business-oriented sometimes. A record company’s job is to sell, promote, and market records, but all they ever want to do is try to interfere with the music and it’s like, ‘You’re not qualified!’”

Mann’s current situation, away from the mainstream music business, suits her fine. Mann releases all her own material and, through her artist-friendly United Musicians company, handles all the marketing and promotion on her own.

As The Forgotten Arm testifies, her fans are able to hear Mann’s songs exactly the way she wants them to be heard. “I have a built-in audience, so it’s not that difficult,” she said, “but being on a major label makes it so difficult because you can’t even do your job and they’re not doing their job and it just drives you crazy.”

The Forgotten Arm

A Mann Stands Alone Aimee Mann The Forgotten Arm

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