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Monday, April 7, 2014

Dean Wareham: Dean Wareham (Double Feature)

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Because his voice weds the sweet side of Lou Reed’s mumble to the melodic side of Tom Verlaine’s whimper, Dean Wareham might have gotten a head start among influential indie- and underground-rock figures.

After fronting two significant bands—Galaxie 500 from the mid 1980s to 1991 and Luna from 1992 to 2004—Wareham is almost as recognizable, if not as recognized, as Reed and Verlaine, but his official debut solo LP comes along late in his career.

Like most of his late-period Luna albums and post-Luna releases (particularly his records with Britta Phillips, final Luna bassist and later his wife), Dean Wareham relies a lot on the geeky bedroom-eyed charm conveyed not only by his voice but also by his material.

Songs like “Beat the Devil” and “My Eyes Are Blue” don’t really meander; they simply find some of the loosest-limbed, least-hurried ways to describe a straight line and a foursquare beat.

Furthermore, Wareham gives himself over again to a fixation on dark hipsters like Lee Hazlewood and Serge Gainsbourg, and depends nearly as much as they did on cool moodiness.

The overall experience resembles a rainy day in western Europe: even when the tempo quickens to match the intertwined, droning keyboards on “Holding Pattern” or intensifies to match the Velvet Underground (B-side) atmosphere of “Babes in the Woods,” a listener can itch for café con leche, a pack of Gauloises and a blonde gamine.

Fortunately, producer Jim James of My Morning Jacket helps Wareham use more musical colors than blue and gray, and Dean Wareham closes with “Happy & Free,” a six-minute wafting that fulfills its title so well that Wareham can just hum some of its verses. Does he have anything to prove?