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Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2012

The Lemonheads in the Land Down Under

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This winter's Lemonheads tour coincides with the release of a new, quite unique album from Evan Dando. It's called Hotel Sessions, and although it's released under his Lemonheads band name, it's just Dando accompanying himself on acoustic guitar.

The main feature of the band's live show, though, will be a full performance of a much-more familiar Lemonheads release: It's a Shame About Ray, the celebrated 1992 album that gave Dando a taste of stardom and, for at least a brief time, made him an alternative-rock poster boy.

As dissimilar as Hotel Sessions and its solo, acoustic sound are from the fully produced Ray, the two albums are linked by a very unlikely tie: Australia. A 1991 visit to the continent and his interactions with the people there inspired many of the songs on Ray, and that country is where Dando recorded Hotel Sessions.

At the time, Dando had no idea he was going to release the sessions. He was simply sitting in a hotel room with his Australian booking agent when he decided to play some songs he'd been kicking around for a new Lemonheads album.

The recording of those sessions would have gone unreleased, had a friend of Dando's not suggested a different idea.

"He had the tape. I don't know how he ended up with it, but he had it," Dando explains. "He said, 'You should put this out. It's a really nice document.' So I was like, 'OK, why not?'"

About half of Hotel Sessions is made up of songs from The Lemonheads' back catalog, including "Into Your Arms," "Big Gay Heart" and "It's About Time." But several of the songs are unreleased originals, including tracks like "Superhero" and "Rest Assured" that have the kind of easygoing pop melodies that have always been part of The Lemonheads' music.

There is certainly a relaxed charm to Hotel Sessions, not to mention a sense of intimacy in these recordings. As Dando runs through the songs, the listener gets a real sense of almost having been in the room when Dando was singing and playing them.

Dando said that in addition to performing Ray from start to finish, he plans to play a few of the new songs from Hotel Sessions on the winter tour, probably solo within what is otherwise a full-band show with Dando joined by guitarist Josh Lattanzi and drummer Brian Nolan.

It's a Shame About Ray
remains a pivotal record in the career of Dando and his revolving-door Lemonheads. It was their fifth album, and their second for Atlantic Records, which had begun to take a real interest in the band around that time.

"All of a sudden we were a priority for the label," Dando recalls. "We had been signed a long time before, but because Nirvana and the whole, like, alternative-rock movement was starting to actually sell records, they really were looking ... They were really into it. They were really accommodating."

It's a Shame About Ray
sold respectably, but it didn't soar up the charts until the band released a cover of Simon & Garfunkel's "Mrs. Robinson," intended to promote the video release of The Graduate. It was released as a single, and became such a hit it was added to later pressings of Ray. The success made Dando a sudden rock-media darling, even landing him on People magazine's "50 Most Beautiful People" list. Dando retreated from that fame, putting the band on hiatus in 1997 after releasing two more records. He reformed a new version of the Lemonheads in 2005.

Many years later, he still views It's a Shame About Ray as a special album.

"There's something really nice about that record," Dando says. "I don't know what it is exactly, but I do like it. I'm very proud of it. It's funny because, like, we were stepping back and getting a little quieter (musically) then, and I think that's nice, too. It's sort of got some soul."

The Lemonheads play the Turner Hall Ballroom on Saturday, Jan. 21, with openers The Shining Twins and the Mike Benign Compulsion. Doors open at 7 p.m.