The best singing and songwriting partnerships involve a respectful give and take�whether it�s in the trading of lyrical or melodic ideas, an exchange of guitar riffs or the blending of vocal harmonies. Sam Llanas and Kurt Neumann initiated such a partnership more 20 years ago. As frontmen for the BoDeans, one of the premier American roots-rock bands, they forged a signature sound based on heartfelt lyrics, passionate harmonies and ringing guitars. That sound first surfaced on the group�s critically acclaimed, T-Bone Burnett-produced 1986 debut, Love & Hope & Sex & Dreams. And while the BoDeans have not issued an album since 1996�s Blend, the band is now back with Resolution, an inspired collection of classically simple songs that prove that Llanas and Neumann have lost none of their musical edge.
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Produced at Neumann�s Slamshack studio near Austin, Texas, the album opens with the chiming �If It Makes You,� one of several stirring, anthemic numbers. Like the bouncy �(We Can) Live� and the feel-good rocker �Wild World,� the track instantly imbues the album with a feeling of Not Actual Cover Art euphoria and unbridled optimism. Other songs, like the romantic flashback �Marianne,� the Springsteen-style �617� and the dreamy ballad �Slipping into You,� are bittersweet, reflective story-songs that take the listener from a record store and a 6th-floor walkup apartment to the sultry streets of New Orleans. Interestingly, the three anthemic cuts are written and sung primarily by Neumann, while the album�s more cinematic numbers come largely from Llanas. But, as always, each had input into the others� songs. �Sam and I are total opposites,� explains Neumann. �He tends to write real good little stories, where I favor more inspirational stuff. But we�ve always helped refine the lyrics, melodies and structures of each other�s material.�
For instance, Neumann had written �(We Can) Live� but it somehow didn�t click with either Llanas or original BoDean bassist Bob Griffin. It wasn�t until Llanas took the song and recast it in a way that suited his big strumming style on acoustic guitar that it became a BoDeans song. Similarly, Llanas wrote �Nobody Loves Me� as a slow country ballad, a �mellow, late-night song,� which suited him fine as solo number but lacked dynamics in a group setting. �It didn�t spark any real passion in us,� recalls Neumann. �I told Sam, �I�m just not feeling it,� which he accepted. So I went into my studio one day and completely re-recorded all the music. Suddenly, it became this whole different thing that everyone was excited about.�
A big part of the BoDeans� sound is the harmony created by Llanas� and Neumann�s vocals. It�s a sweet-and-sour blend that has colored BoDean songs dating back to such popular early numbers as �She�s a Runaway,� �Fadeaway� and �Still the Night,� or �Only Love,� from the band�s second album, Outside Looking In, produced by Talking Head Jerry Harrison. According to Llanas, it�s a sound that he and Neumann first discovered in high school, growing up in Waukesha, Wisconsin, and it remains as strong as ever on Resolution. �Although our voices are very different,� says Llanas. �they really complement each other. Kurt�s got more of a smooth, lower tone and can do that bottom thing, where I�ve got more of a high, raspy, gravelly thing that I can lay right on top. When we put the two together, we get a nice, rich spectrum of tones.�
Recognizing their unique partnership helped to define the new album. �It�s a happy record,� admits Neumann, who points to another positive aspect of the album. �Getting signed to Rounder Records is a great part of the BoDeans story, because Rounder was the first label to ever make us a record offer. It�s nice to be able to sign with the indie roots label that first showed interest in us. As a classic American rock band, with our roots firmly in the Midwest, it�s a really appropriate place for us to be.�
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