Copyright 2000 The Washington Post  
The Washington Post

February 9, 2000, Wednesday, Final Edition


LENGTH: 251 words

HEADLINE: A. Mann & Her Husband

BYLINE: Mike Joyce


Singer-songwriters Aimee Mann and Michael Penn confessed at the outset of their performance at the Ram's Head Tavern in Annapolis Sunday night that they always feel tongue-tied onstage. So to remedy the situation, the married couple decided to tour with a stand-up comic who could improvise between-songs patter for them. Now instead of awkward silences punctuating their sets, there's a blizzard of hit-and-miss jokes.

Not that a little levity wasn't welcome. Both Mann and Penn tend to write about relationships in trouble, so the comic relief helped keep the band and the audience laughing in spite of several tormented or caustic ballads. Mann was in particularly fine form, delivering selections from her new solo album (and the "Magnolia" soundtrack) in a cool yet passionate voice. She's still performing several songs from her 1995 release, "I'm With Stupid," including emotionally taut versions of "Choice in the Matter," "You Could Make a Killing" and "Amateur" that easily ranked among the evening's highlights.

As always, Penn's contributions revealed a big debt to Lennon and McCartney. With a warm and tuneful tenor, he juxtaposed the new songs "Perfect Candidate" and "Whole Truth" with older hits and album tracks that still hold up surprisingly well. With the help of his wife and three band mates, he even managed to break free of the subdued folk-rock and faux string arrangements now and then, especially when he uncorked the Dylanesque romp "Brave New World."