Gordon Gano & The Ryans: Under the Sun

WBy: Ron Hart

We all know about one-hit wonders - music acts known for the one song from their repertoire that hit big. The Violent Femmes are what you would consider to be a one-album wonder, as it seems like the only record most people seem to regard by these Wisconsin alt-rock legends is their eponymous 1982 debut. You know, the one with "Kiss Off," "Add It Up," and "Gone Daddy Gone," a song recently revisited by Gnarls Barkley. This is quite unfortunate, as the Femmes harbor one of the strongest catalogs of the 1980s underground, as any fan of such overlooked gems as 1984’s gothic country masterpiece Hallowed Ground, 1986’s Jerry Harrison-produced The Blind Leading the Naked, and 1989’s horribly overlooked 3 can attest. Each of these titles offers music as good, and in certain cases, arguably better than some of the material off that self-titled album - a trajectory that continues with the second solo project from frontman Gordon Gano.

Stripped away of the all-star-stuffed cameos that hindered his 2002 debut as his own act, Hitting the Ground, and working in collaboration with Billy and Brendan Ryan of the unsung '90s modern rock group The Bogmen, Under the Sun (released September 15 on Yep Roc) features the fullest and most sonically rich music Gano has created in his 30 year career.

While shades of the Femmes lurk within each rhythmic corner across these dozen tracks, augmented by Gano’s unmistakably unique croon, the tight production and strong playing of the Ryan Brothers give each song a more fully realized sense of adventure than anything he has done with or without the Femmes. Cuts like "Wave and Water" and "Judge to Widow" echo the early '80s New Wave the Violent Femmes revolted against with their unique folk-punk sound, taking advantage of the Ryans' knack for the kind of unfurling, funky grooves that made The Bogmen such a cult favorite. Meanwhile, "Hired Gun" and the Wilco-meets-Nick Cave flavored title cut could have been outtakes from Hallowed Ground had the first Femmes album struck platinum 8 months after its initial release instead of 8 years. Gano also tries his hand at Polish dance music on "Oholah Oholibah" and "Red," Stiff Records-style white reggae on "Still Suddenly Here," and even finds time to revert back to the perverted wordplay of his early days on "The Way That I Creep," the most Femmes-rooted song of the lot.

Even if it's been 20 years since you last listened to The Violent Femmes, give Under the Sun a chance. You might very well be surprised at how much you will keep it in your rotation after you realize there is much more to Gano than "Blister in the Sun".

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