A Happy, Harmonious Union
Ted Leo (of Ted Leo and the Pharmacists) and singer-songwriter Aimee Mann might not seem like the most obvious match, but the pair formed a fast friendship after touring together last year and decided to cement their newfound camaraderie with a collaboration called The Both. Leo and Mann release their self-titled debut as The Both this week on Mann’s own SuperEgo Record. Despite the seeming disparity between their styles and previous work, this is a sweet, incredibly harmonious union of two of today’s veteran musicians that pushes their talents in a new direction.
On opener “The Gambler,” Leo’s slightly bluesy vocals come together with Mann’s over a distorted guitar riff, mirroring the melody, and it works surprisingly well, combining ear-pleasing pop with a guitar solo that has just a little grit. “You’re a gamble indeed,” the duo sings– it seems like this bet certainly paid off.
The Both allows Leo and Mann to meet in the middle of their talents and comfort zones, adding elements of Leo’s rougher, punky bombast and Mann’s more soulful tunes, and pushing them both to perfect their vocals—something neither of them is particularly known for. The Both comes off a little more Mann than Leo, staying mostly in the vein of power pop with a tinge of folksy blues. The single “Milwaukee,” a tribute to the moment of the duo’s formation, is upbeat, guitar-driven, feel-good pop rock. Mann’s deliciously low vocals complement a rocking guitar solo with just the right amount of distortion from Leo in the bridge, while tracks like “Pay for It” and “Honesty Is No Excuse,” with their shuffling beats and bluesy guitar, take both members of the duo away from their past work.
“No Sir,” “You Can’t Help Me Now” and “Hummingbird” take The Both in a softer direction, slowing down the tempo to warm, languid beats. On “No Sir,” Mann’s alto hums over light, clean guitar, and “You Can’t Help Me Now” even has hints of acoustic alt-country. “Hummingbird” is the sweetest of them all, with Mann’s delicate vocals.
The Both is a well-crafted album of perfectly harmonious hits, but it’s not always interesting—”Volunteers of America,” while a nice homage to the nation’s disaster services volunteers, is really rather bland, as are “The Prisoner” and “Bedtime Stories.” But the collaboration shows a great deal of promise, overall, in the way Leo and Mann combine their unique songwriting talents to create something neither could have done alone. Let’s hope The Both isn’t just a one-off, and that the duo will push each other to make more new (and more adventurous) music.