Gettin’ Educated with Gene Ween
Students and connoisseurs of pop music are taught to respect and revere a handful of the Songwriting Greats: Leonard Cohen, Jacques Brel, Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, Cole Porter. The people who created the classics. If you don’t learn about these fellows on your own, someone will undoubtedly find the most embarrassing moment to assist in your education – perhaps when you try to sing along with someone’s cover of “Hallelujah,” and bust out the wrong set of lyrics.
Aaron Freeman, better known to the world at large as “Gene Ween,” has just released his first solo project, Marvelous Clouds. This is an all-caps-deserving BIG DEAL because Ween has been around for 20+ years and has been Mr. Freeman’s entire musical existence since he was a teenager. This is also a BIG DEAL for us pop geeks because Marvelous Clouds is a cover album composed entirely of songs by Rod McKuen.
This poet/artist/songwriter (who has penned songs recorded by artists as wide-ranging as Frank Sinatra to Madonna) is someone who should also be on that Greats list, and Freeman has graciously provided a primer for all of us to get reacquainted. We can all thank him for doing so in such a gentle format – no public shaming necessary!
The album’s presentation is remarkably simple with very little of the signature Ween experimentation. Just the songs- as plain as can be – right down to Freeman’s singing voice which remains utterly unadorned throughout the recordings. It seems a peculiar match at first – this old-fashioned, highly emotional songwriting paired with an artist known for being so off-the-wall. But perhaps this is the next frontier: stripping away all the excess and playing a collection of classics exactly as they are, exactly as they’re meant to be played.