Copyright 2001 Globe Newspaper Company  
The Boston Globe

January 19, 2001, Friday ,THIRD EDITION


LENGTH: 1359 words


BYLINE: By Joan Anderman, Globe Staff

C all it one more ironic twist in the bedeviled music career of Aimee Mann. The Los Angeles-based singer and songwriter, formerly of the Boston band 'Til Tuesday, has spent the better part of the past decade alternately making whip-smart pop albums and extricating herself from the clutches of major record labels whose handling of Mann's music ran the gamut from ineffectual to evil, depending on whom you ask. Not one of her three solo albums was released on the label for which it was recorded.

Last week she was nominated for three Grammy Awards, and the fact that Mann is being acknowledged for her accomplished artistry by the very industry that hasn't had a clue what to do with her is worthy of, well, a devastatingly acerbic Aimee Mann song. It might be called "Nothing Is Good Enough," or "How Am I Different," or "Calling It Quits," or "Fall of the World's Own Optimist" - all of which are tracks on Mann's latest album, "Bachelor No. 2," recorded and released on her own Superego label after a years-long battle to win her freedom from Interscope Records.

   "I think it would be really fun to win," says Mann, expressing a rare lighthearted sentiment on the phone from her hotel room in suburban Washington, D.C. "If I win I'll probably take it to mean that I must be great," she adds dryly, pointing out that "it's certainly not the major labels who are nominating me for anything. By this point they've probably got the point that I'm not interested."

Mann, fellow singer-songwriter and husband Michael Penn, and a revolving host of stand-up comics are on a tour dubbed Acoustic Vaudeville, which stops at the Berklee Performance Center tonight and tomorrow (both are sold out). The success of these shows, the formation of a cooperative record label called United Musicians, an Oscar nomination last year, and now the Grammy nods - for female pop vocal performance, song for a motion picture, and soundtrack album for the film "Magnolia" - are long-overdue bright spots capping a well-documented troubled period for Mann, whose years of record-company roulette have made her a poster girl for talented musicians whose repertoire doesn't include hit singles.

"I sort of look at it as, from the time I was in 'Til Tuesday on Epic, like a pot slowly coming to a boil, and then boiling over," says Mann. "You get distracted by the problem. You're thinking, 'Well, maybe we can put something in this pot. Let's put the lid on, or take the lid off.' You're constantly trying to manage this state of boiling over, and it's always out of your control. But the answer is take the [expletive] pot off the [expletive] stove. Just leave."

Leaving the majors has been an epiphany for Mann, personally and professionally. "We've had such a great year," she says. Indeed, Mann has sold a remarkable 170,000 copies of "Bachelor No. 2" via the independent distribution group RED. The soundtrack to "Magnolia," released on Reprise, has sold half a million copies, a number Mann confesses she can't hope to reach as an independent artist. "That's what a major label can do. But then," Mann points out wryly, "they never would have done it."

What Mann has been able to do is take total creative control of her career. "As my manager puts it, they have three big ideas and we have to come up with 10,000 tiny ideas. We call in favors from friends. I get to be my own guinea pig. It can be really creative. I recently called a friend who's a comedy writer and asked him to come up with some ideas for a commercial for 'Bachelor No. 2.' It's funny. It's different. It's an experiment."

Mann believes that the behemoth corporations that control the music mainstream have, in their pursuit of fast, vast bucks, wildly misjudged the market for thoughtful pop music. "I think there's not only a place for serious songwriters, but an audience. The fact that acts like Britney and Christina are so successful does not imply that that's the only audience that exists or that they would only want to listen to that kind of music."

While things are looking up for Mann, her trials persist. Hip-O Records has recently released a CD called "Aimee Mann - The Ultimate Collection" that was compiled without permission or input from the artist. "It's a fraud," Mann declares. "The supposed B-sides are actually this crappy stuff that wasn't even supposed to be recorded, rough mixes of music or visits to radio stations. The thing that [angers me] most of all is that we volunteered our help, even though we didn't support the project in the first place, just so there would be some quality control." Their offer was flatly refused, says Mann, who graciously requests that nobody buy it. Needless to say, there is a lawsuit in the works.

Tuesday tunes: The Kendall Cafe's Tuesday Night Music Club (no relation to Sheryl Crow's first album) kicked off this week for a jam-packed house of local rock luminaries. Bassist Ed Valauskus (who, if he keeps up his current workload, will by my calculations soon be playing in every rock band in Boston) started the evening, followed by former Letters to Cleo frontwoman Kay Hanley - who described her set of fine new solo material as "a work in progress," and the Red Telephone, which previewed music from its new album, out next week (the Telephone's official CD release party is Feb. 3 at the Middle East).

Series mastermind Paul Buckley, drummer in the band Orbit and Lunch Records chief, is on a mission to "bring some of the best talent in Boston to a small setting. It's supposed to be very loose, a medium to try new things and not neccessarily feel like this is the gig at the Paradise where they have to be perfect." Highlights of the coming weeks include appearances by Mary Lou Lord, Tracy Bonham, and former Belly/Breeders/Throwing Muses singer-songwriter Tanya Donelly, who will play locally for the first time in more than two years.

Bits and pieces: Bassist Jason Newsted has left Metallica after 14 years, citing "private and personal reasons, and physical damage I've done to myself over the years while playing the music that I love." Newsted joined the band after original Metallica bassist Cliff Burton was killed in a tour bus crash in 1986. . . . Local pop-rock faves the Push Stars release their new album, "Opening Time," next week. . . . Sixteen-year-old Michael Cuccione, who played Jason "Q. T." McKnight on the MTV boyband spoof "2Gether," died on Saturday at home in Vancouver, British Columbia. Cuccione had suffered from Hodgkin's disease and respiratory problems.

In clubland and beyond: Tonight: Bowman CD release party at the Attic in Newton; Johnny Wishbone with Angry Hill and Gage at Bill's Bar; Dragstrip Courage, Delta Clutch, and Paul Janovitz (ex-Cold Water Flat) upstairs at the Middle East; Sloan Wainwright at Club Passim; Franc Graham Band at the Abbey; Flynn at the Irish Embassy. Saturday: Hybrasil, Wax Poetic, and Fully Celebrated Orchestra downstairs at the Middle East; Lemonpeeler CD release at the Lizard Lounge; the Weisstronauts at Plough & Stars. Sunday: Christian McNeill (Orchestra Morphine, Hybrasil) at Toad. Monday: Schwang (featuring Anita Suhanin, late of Groovasaurus); Tim Gearan Band at Toad. SOUND CHOICE

With the Beatles back on the charts, it's time to steer fans again to Beatlejuice, the local Beatles tribute band. It's fronted by Brad Delp of the band Boston, who does an uncanny job of reviving the vocals of both John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Beatlejuice is at Johnny D's tonight and tomorrow. The pop-rocking Dragstrip Courage is at the Middle East Upstairs tonight, same time that roots/rockabilly stylist Arlen Roth is at the House of Blues, post-punkers Six Finger Satellite are at O'Brien's, and the rocking Ms. Pigeon is at T. T.'s. Tomorrow, the Boston Bluegrass Union celebrates its 25th anniversary at Lexington's Museum of Our National Heritage with the Southern Allstars, featuring James King, Aubrey Haynie, and Don Rigsby. Also tomorrow: Hybrasil and Wax Poetic at the Middle East Downstairs, Merl Saunders & His Funky Friends at Harpers Ferry, Mary Lou Lord at Club Passim, and the Sugar Twins at Lilli's.

GRAPHIC: PHOTO, PHOTO/KATE GARNER/ Mann is free from the big labels - and up for three Grammys.