BoDeans: Mr. Sad Clown

Having debuted on the roots-oriented Slash Records in 1986, making Americana music years before the term was coined alongside labelmates The Blasters and Los Lobos, Kurt Neumann and Sammy Llanas have remained staunchly independent during the course of their career as BoDeans. Mr. Sad Clown is their tenth studio album , a collection of fifteen original songs that stays true to that direct means of communication they’ve always preferred and that approach generally stands the duo in good stead. This opening "Stay," for instance, sounds like nothing so much as less grandiose U2:  the stately horns and foursquare drumming preclude melodrama—or significant statement of any kind over and above the title.

That’s largely because, Llanas and Neuman (who produced, mix and recorded this album) rely on their voices, individually, in harmony and in counterpoint, to carry emotion more than the lyrics. Accordingly, the singers offer the images in "Shine" in a reach for a cinematic scope, but the performance never gains enough power to become an anthem.  The clarity of the sound works to good effect here, as it does through most of the album, but it’s often true that, during the hour long duration of the CD, the polish is a substitute for substance (especially when the influence of Springsteen is so strong as it is here).

With the easy rhymes that populate "Say Goodbye," the songwriters reach for a resonance the music never attains, precisely because BoDeans are just too down to earth for their own good. Their charms of their music are modest out of proportion to their implicit ambition(s) for profundity, so when they succeed, as they do on "Easy Love," it’s almost in spite of them-selves. "Don’t Fall Down" is indeed as transparent as the title suggests, begging the question of whether Llanas and Neumann realize how unconsciously they lift from their sources (here the Rolling Stones).

Mr Sad Clown is a refreshing dose of simplicity and warm humanity, to be sure, but it’s also textbook example of songwriters and musicians who never quite manage to rise above their original inspiration(s),

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