Mann Wraps Despair In Lively Tunes

Posted: November 22, 1993

As downcast singer-songwriters go, Aimee Mann's among the more upbeat. The former 'Til Tuesday front woman's lyrics nearly always describe romantic disappointment, but she's apt to dress an unstinting emotional reflection in an exuberant tune with a tricky, catchy arrangement. "Maybe there's room for compromise," she sang while bounding about the Chestnut Cabaret's stage Friday night, as guitars careened and cymbals crashed behind her. "But signs that I get say otherwise."

The 32-year-old Mann's mature songs haven't yet found the audience they deserve; she's still best known as the tall blond woman with the teased hair who sang the mid-'80s hits "Voices Carry" and "Coming Up Close." Friday, she did reinvented, toughened-up takes on both of those, but stayed focused on the finely crafted songs on the underheard Whatever (Imago), her solo debut and one of the year's most durable pop albums.

Dressed in a frilly white blouse and riding jacket - the Elizabethan look favored by the British Invasion rockers she takes her musical cues from - Mann switched off from bass to acoustic to electric guitar, and rendered her often- Beatlesque tunes in a voice that could flutter and brood, but never grew too despairing. But although her band gained versatility with the addition of Dave Gregory, the like-minded guitar and keyboard player from the English pop- rock band XTC, he's not yet fully integrated with the band. In "Mr. Harris," in fact, he played in the wrong key, and the song fell apart.

Such mishaps proved to be a boon for the crowd. "We're gonna stay up here till we get one right all the way through," Mann announced. She then kept returning for encores, from the guitar crunch of Badfinger's "Baby Blue" to two precise 'Til Tuesday songs, "(Believed You Were) Lucky" and the Mann- Elvis Costello collaboration "The Other End (of the Telescope)." At the end, it seemed that if the band had only rehearsed more of her songs, she might have stayed and played them all night long.

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