While the BoDeans
haven't been especially prolific since the mid-'90s, Mr. Sad Clown
finds the band commendably stepping up their productivity -- it follows their previous release Still
by a mere two years, impressive given that it's only their third studio album since 1996. Still
was an understated affair that reunited Sam Llanas
and Kurt Neumann
with producer T-Bone Burnett
(who worked with the group's on their masterful 1986 debut Love & Hope & Sex & Dreams
), but Mr. Sad Clown
finds the duo working on their own -- Neumann
produced and recorded the sessions at his studio in Texas, and he and Llanas
handled all the instrumental chores themselves except for horns and some keyboards. And while Still
often sounded like an (only intermittently successful) attempt to reconnect with the fire of the BoDeans
' best work, Mr. Sad Clown
feels fresher and freer, with the duo taking more chances and mixing up their formula a bit while maintaining a firm grip on their essential strengths. Little if anything on Mr. Sad Clown
feels like a radical departure from the BoDeans'
body of work, but despite the muted tempos that reflect the members' pushing-fifty status, there's a lean and insistent energy to the best cuts that's a significant improvement from Still
, and though Llanas'
voice doesn't soar to the same heights it did in the '80s, he sounds more committed on this material than he has in quite some time. The BoDeans
are also willing to indulge their quirks a bit on these sessions, and they sound like they're having fun with numbers like "Cheesecake Pan" and "Headed for the End of the World" that throw some different textures into their mix. Mr. Sad Clown
still doesn't return the BoDeans
to the glories of their best work, but it reveals an imagination and commitment that's been largely missing from their music, and it steers them into a direction that takes them somewhere they've needed to go for a while. Hopefully, it's the first step towards a second wind for the band.