Copyright 2003 Knight-Ridder, Inc.

The Tallahassee Democrat

January 24, 2003

LENGTH: 542 words
Life & Arts
HEADLINE: CDs Show Her Stellar Skills
BYLINE: Kati Schardl

From her three late-'80s recordings with 'Til Tuesday through four stellar solo recordings and a juicy chunk of the soundtrack for the Paul Thomas Anderson film "Magnolia," Aimee Mann has taken the particular truths of the psyche and made them universal.

She's done this with delicacy, irony, meticulous songcraft, wry (and sometimes wicked) humor, an uncanny ear for pristine pop hooks and an instinctive, sympathetic understanding of the workings of the human heart.

There's really no such thing as a bad Aimee Mann album. Need proof? Here's a look at her catalog. It offers glimpses of a fiercely individual artist in a constant state of forward motion.

• "Voices Carry" - The first 'Til Tuesday album, which came out in 1985, is the one that launched Mann's warm, sultry alto into the public's consciousness. The title song has the eternal resonance of a temple gong.

• "Welcome Home" - The slight New Wave edge of "Voices Carry" gave way to a warmer, more folk-oriented approach on the second 'Til Tuesday album. Where the group's first album credited the full band with writing the songs, this one gives individual credit, and it's no surprise that the standout tracks, including "Coming Up Close," are Mann's.

• "Everything's Different Now" - The final 'Til Tuesday record was an intensely personal gem that featured a who's who of singer-songwriter collaborators. Elvis Costello contributed background vocals, Matthew Sweet crafted arrangements and co-wrote a song with Jules Shear, and Mann teamed with Shear for the affecting "(Believed You Were) Lucky."

• "Whatever" - Four years after the demise of 'Til Tuesday, Mann released her solo debut. From the quiet grace of "4th of July," "Stupid Thing," "Jacob Marley's Chain," "Mr. Harris" and "I've Had It" to the bouncy jangle of "Fifty Years After the Fair," "Could've Been Anyone," "Say Anything" and "I Could Hurt You Now," Mann flexed her musical muscles with authority. Jim Keltner sat in on drums and Roger McGuinn contributed guitar and vocals.

• "I'm With Stupid" - Mann's smart, sharp sophomore solo effort came after two years of squabbling with record labels. Chunkier and more ferocious than its predecessor, the album featured a certain Michael Penn (now Mann's spouse) on guitar and backing vocals by Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook of Squeeze, Neil Innes of the Rutles, and Juliana Hatfield of the Lemonheads.

• "Magnolia" soundtrack - Mann played muse for Anderson by contributing eight trenchant tracks to the soundtrack of his often surreal, deeply moving film. Some of the songs would reappear on Mann's subsequent solo release, "Bachelor No.2."

• "Bachelor No. 2" - A sense of freedom infused "Bachelor," due in part to accolades from Mann's work on the "Magnolia" soundtrack and to the fact that she had finally severed all ties with major record labels and released the album on her own imprint, SuperEgo Records. The sound was spacious, the tone dry and the songwriting more deft than ever.

• "Lost in Space" - Another self-released CD, "Lost in Space" hummed and pulsed with the power of an artist at the top of her game. Lyrics blazed like tongues of fire and snapped like white-hot sparks in the forge of Mann's songcraft, and her full-throated voice matched the words' flaming beauty.