People That I’m Wrong For Label: Dualtone
Anyone who listened to American college rock back in the ‘80s – they hadn’t really started calling it “alternative” yet – will raise an eyebrow of interest when they see the name “Zanes” on an album. Warren Zanes and his older brother, Dan, were members of the Del Fuegos, who released a couple of great albums on Slash Records – Boston, Mass. and Stand Up were always my faves – and maintained a high enough profile to star in a Budweiser commercial before signing to RCA, putting out a disappointing swan song (Smoking in the Fields), and disbanding. Since then, Dan’s carved out a niche for himself by recording some of the coolest children’s music on the market, but Warren kind of went off the map for awhile…well, musically speaking, anyway; he opted to spend his time on more academic affairs, earning not only a Bachelor’s degree but two Masters as well as a PhD in visual and cultural studies from the University of Rochester.
While gettin’ properly schooled, Warren continued to do a bit of recording here and there, which eventually – after some issues with the label he’d originally done it for – led to the release of 2002’s Memory Girls. Now, four years later, his sophomore solo effort, People That I’m Wrong For, proves that his debut wasn’t just a one-shot deal. Although there’s no big-name guest star this time around (like Emmylou Harris and Patty Griffin on Memory Girls), Warren’s band does include two guys with decent pedigrees of their own: super-producer Brad Jones is on bass and background vocals, while Gabe Dixon mans the keys.
Comparisons to the summery folk-pop of Wilco’s Summerteeth were thrown around with Warren’s debut, and those remain occasionally valid here, but the production by Daniel Tashian – who’s done a lot of work with kindred spirit Josh Rouse – is efficient rather than glistening. People That I’m Wrong For is a lush pop record, but with Americana leanings; Warren’s voice is highly reminiscent of Chris Collingwood of the Fountains of Wayne, but the music’s in no way power pop; it’s closer to the vicinity of the Pernice Brothers, the General Store, and the Thrills. The title track is where Dixon’s piano work particularly shines, though the blending of his keys with Zanes’ guitar on “Carrying Me / Carrying You” is pretty spectacular in its own right; Zanes’ comment on his website that the song has “a slightly more epic feel than a lot of the tracks” is an understatement. There’s also some impressive pedal steel work on “Fool the Moon” by guest Jim Hoke adds an additional melancholy undertone to that song, but “No One Here Knows Jane” might be the saddest of all the tracks, where the subject of the song is someone he really hasn’t known since she was a girl…and, yet, it sounds as though no one else knows her any better. “I’d love to help a friend,” sings Zanes, when asked to help poor Jane, “but I’ve got troubles of my own / And no knack for happy endings.” Great song, but a bit of a bummer; good thing it’s followed by the rollicking “Ella’s Arms.”
The most incredible thing about People That I’m Wrong For is that it was recorded in just five days. If you’ve ever been in a recording studio, you know that it can take some folks five days just to get the levels set right. It’s a testament to the musical ability of Zanes and his companions that they worked out exactly what they wanted beforehand, then went into the studio and got things done. While Warren may not need this album to be a success – not only is he a writer of some note, he’s also the vice-president of education at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – it deserves to be a success…so consider this four-star review my contribution to the grass roots campaign.