A treat for fans of Rod McKuen, and Ween

Aaron Freeman goes solo after being part of the New Hope duo for years.
Aaron Freeman goes solo after being part of the New Hope duo for years.
Posted: June 23, 2012

After having been half of New Hope's wonderfully weird Ween since his teens, Aaron Freeman could have taken a different approach to going solo.

Freeman, 42, could have kept his stage name "Gene Ween" and continued making that band's brand of stoner noise-pop on his own. He could have blazed the last-tour-ever trail with Mickey "Dean Ween" Melchiondo, his pal since eighth grade, before going it alone.

Instead, he chose to reappropriate the name he was born with, the name that few people knows him as — Aaron Freeman — and record an album of Rod McKuen covers — the recently released Marvelous Clouds — and then announce his departure from Ween.

The 79-year-old McKuen is no longer a household name, and surely not among Ween's cult fan base. Yet throughout the late '60s and '70s, McKuen was everywhere: a best-selling poet and singer-songwriter whose often syrupy lyrics touched upon themes of lost love and spirit worlds. McKuen's music ran the gamut from breezy acoustic jazz and chamber folk to epically arranged classical tone-poems.

Which, come to think of it, sounds a bit like Ween.

On Thursday night at World Cafe Live, Freeman showed how McKuen's kitchen-sink approach was at one with his own. With a crisp four-piece band behind him, Freeman became a crooner — a boulevardier, really — waving a microphone and whispering McKuen's phrases about trembling leaves, faithful dogs, tamarack trees and the soul-stirring intertwining of bodies and minds.

"I have been a rover," Freeman sang quietly through "Love's Been Good to Me" as his band played in hushed tones. "I have walked alone?/?Hiked a hundred highways?/?Never found a home."

Most of Freeman's take on McKuen was softly spun yet gently rousing. Freeman's take on "Jean" (from McKuen's soundtrack to The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie) was elegantly cinematic. The slow, steady "Lonesome Cities" came as a cool breeze of country-inspired honky-tonk.

Things got creepy when Freeman did "Seasons in the Sun," the McKuen-penned song for one-hit-wonder Terry Jacks. Freeman's voice grew lower, harder and less breezy, the sound spookier than all that came before it in the show. This set the stage handsomely for Freeman's encore — Ween songs — including the eerie doo-wop of "Drifter in the Dark" and the woozy psychedelic blues of "I Fell in Love Today." Fans of Freeman, McKuen and Ween all left excitedly happy.

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