The best singing and songwriting partnerships involve a respectful give and take—whether it’s in the trading of lyrical or melodic ideas, an exchange of guitar riffs or the blending of vocal harmonies. Sam Llanas and Kurt Neumann initiated such a partnership more 20 years ago. As frontmen for the BoDeans, one of the premier American roots-rock bands, they forged a signature sound based on heartfelt lyrics, passionate harmonies and ringing guitars. That sound first surfaced on the group’s critically acclaimed, T-Bone Burnett-produced 1986 debut, Love & Hope & Sex & Dreams.
A big part of the BoDeans’ sound is the harmony created by Llanas’ and Neumann’s vocals. It’s a sweet-and-sour blend that has colored BoDean songs dating back to such popular early numbers as “She’s a Runaway,” “Fadeaway” and “Still the Night,” or “Only Love,” from the band’s second album, Outside Looking In, produced by Talking Head Jerry Harrison. According to Llanas, it’s a sound that he and Neumann first discovered in high school, growing up in Waukesha, Wisconsin, and it remains as strong as ever on Resolution. “Although our voices are very different,” says Llanas. “they really complement each other. Kurt’s got more of a smooth, lower tone and can do that bottom thing, where I’ve got more of a high, raspy, gravelly thing that I can lay right on top. When we put the two together, we get a nice, rich spectrum of tones.”