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Issue: September 2009

Femmes Front Man Goes Non-Violent

Under the Sun (Yep Roc)
Gordon Gano & the Ryans

Do you remember the first time you heard "Blister in the Sun" by the Violent Femmes? I do. It's one of those songs that was so different, so off-center and so full of raw energy that it leapt from the speakers at you like a rabid squirrel.

Or something like that.

Twenty-seven years later, Femmes front man Gordon Gano has set out on his own and released a solid album with his band the Ryans, which has a few interesting names: Brendan and Billy Ryan of the Bogmen, Frank Ferrer of Guns N' Roses and Psychedelic Furs, and Lonnie Hillyer of Maggie's Dream. Phil Palazzolo (Neko Case) engineered and mixed the album.

OK, first things first: Don't listen to this expecting the Femmes. Why would he bother doing a cut-and-paste side project? No, for the most part at least, this recording shows a different side of Gano.

First off, his shrill voice is utilized in a new way in most of these songs. Where the Femmes' tone seems to pull a snotty, punk sound in his singing, this set begs a different approach - and at times his voice sounds much dryer, almost growling. It works.

The album gets started with some straight-up indie pop ("Man in the Sand"), then rolls into funky rock that vaguely resembles Cake ("Wave and Water") and offbeat alt-rock ("Here as a Guest").

But much of this is pretty straight-ahead, just with that quirky flare you would expect from Gano and a couple of Bogmen. The title track, for instance, is a sprawling composition that opens with a simple piano strain and vocal, but builds into a shifting rock song. And lyrically it's a dark story about a broken love affair: "I gave you everything/I gave up everything/Under the sun … It was so dumb."

"Way That I Creep" comes along a couple songs later, and this is when we hear the Violent Femmes, well, creeping into the sound. In fact, this could have been a Femmes song - and perhaps even should have been, the way it pushes forward and Gano's rapid-fire vocal delivery lifts his voice nearer to that aforementioned snotty quality. Even the lyric is Femmes-like with its first-person perspective.

"Red" is another tune that veers into Femmes territory with this similar and familiar delivery, but "Still Suddenly Here" shifts gears again as a dark rock ballad and the album ends with the drifting indie-rocker "Judge to Widow" that includes an unexpected spoken-word ending.

All in all, a pretty good effort and a worthwhile listen. This is a must-own for Violent Femmes fans, and it's solid enough to potentially win Gano a few more fans for his multi-million selling resume. Hey, even if the Femmes aren't as popular or successful as they once were, it's clear Gano still has some songwriting chops.

Find out more at myspace.com/gordonganoandtheryanbrothers.

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