Aimee Mann
Live at St. Ann's Warehouse

SuperEgo/United Musicians

imee Mann isnít the only critically acclaimed, commercially unsuccessful singer/songwriter with a cult following, but she could well be the archetypal one. The details of Mannís career are vaguely known by many casual music fans, but it can be a tad hard, at times, to distinguish Mann from similar artists like Natalie Merchant or Bruce Hornsby, both of whom also led successful bands in the eighties before going solo, or Shawn Colvin and Chris Whitley, who share Mannís folky leanings and determined independence. All of these musicians, and others like them (Lucinda Williams, Neil Finn, Ron Sexsmith, etc.), operate in a weird musical annex most people never see: all have had at least one shot at massive success, all have had troubles with the record industry, and all are able to make a living from their music despite an almost complete lack of public profile or radio play. The feat of being fairly obscure, but still selling more records than your average indie band, is achieved by these artists partially because of their devoted, even cultish, followings. The best way to get such a following is, obviously, to tour and give a good live show.

Itís rather bizarre, then, that itís taken Aimee Mann this long to release a live album. For her fans, Live at St. Ann's Warehouse should prove to have been worth the wait. If you count yourself among her following, you can rest assured that this is the same Aimee Mann you know and love. At this point, you can probably stop reading the review. Oh, it also comes with a DVD. Enjoy. For the remaining 99% of Stylus readers, a slightly deeper analysis is probably required.

First and foremost, Live at St. Ann's Warehouse contains pretty much all the Mann material non-fans will be familiar with, particularly the songs Mann composed for the soundtrack to P.T. Andersonís film Magnolia. Those songs, which are probably her best-known work at this point, share space with highlights from Mannís solo oeuvre. The only thing missing is ďVoices Carry,Ē the lone hit single produced by Mannís eighties band ĎTil Tuesday. Taken together, the 13 tracks that appear on the compact disc half of this package form a strong live set that could serve as an excellent introduction to Mannís compositions. The only downside of Mannís uniformly good songwriting is a tendency for her songs to sound, well, uniform. Having listened to Live at St. Ann's Warehouse a few times now, I still find certain songs hard to distinguish from others. Finally, Mannís backing band turn in an excellent performance, although by the end of the album the rocking-out tends towards the excessive.

The real question, then, is whether you, the listener, are even interested in Aimee Mann. If a talented, possibly stoned chick with a guitar isnít really your thing, itís unlikely that Live at St. Ann's Warehouse will set your world on fire. On the other hand, if you liked Mannís contributions to Magnolia, or if you had a crush on her in 1983 and always wanted to go further, Live at St. Ann's Warehouse could be just what youíre looking for.

Reviewed by: Ryan Hardy

Reviewed on: 2005-01-21

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