Evan Dando has a beautifully husky baritone, scary-great songwriting skills and the kind of male-model good looks that, by rights, should have him turning down leading-man movie roles. So why hasn't the guy had a CD of new material on the shelves for lo these past seven years?
Two words, one hyphen: screw-up.
The former leader of the late, lamented Lemonheads seemed destined for the big time with 1992's "It's a Shame About Ray," a genuine alt-pop classic that included a prescient little heartbreaker called "My Drug Buddy." That album racked up rave reviews -- and even a modest hit with a cover of Simon and Garfunkel's "Mrs. Robinson" -- but Dando descended into "Behind the Music" hell, slowly succumbing to pills, powder and grunge diva Courtney Love -- the rock-and-roll equivalent of the Bermuda Triangle.
Even so, Dando cranked out two more albums of near pop perfection. But with his credibility shot, neither 1993's "Come On Feel the Lemonheads" nor 1996's "Car Button Cloth" garnered the accolades it deserved. And so Dando disappeared, surfacing occasionally to play acoustic concerts with talented acolytes like Ben Kweller and talentless ones like Ben Lee. Two years ago, at a ramshackle but brilliant show with Kweller at the Arlington club Iota, Dando solicited pharmaceuticals from the crowd, encouraging audience members who had the goods to "place them clandestinely on the stage."
Nowadays, Dando has cleaned up his act and gotten back to work. His new "Baby I'm Bored" -- the first CD he's released under his own name -- isn't the singer-guitarist's best effort. It's loosely constructed, to say the least, but there's no denying the man's considerable charms -- not to mention his deft way with a hook.
The disc opens with "Repeat," a wistful pop-rocker that rides on a minor-key melody and Dando's soulful croon. While chunky, stereo-separated rhythm guitars wage a tuneful tug of war, Dando scratches out a short-form autobiography: "Things go wrong / Admit defeat / Things go wrong / Repeat." Elsewhere, the self-professed country fan makes good on all the times he's dropped Gram Parsons's name in interviews, turning in twangy folk-rockers ("In the Grass All Wine Colored," "It Looks Like You") that recall Parsons's days as a Flying Burrito Brother. On the latter tune, the Boston-born Dando even affects a slight Southern drawl.
Admittedly, Dando gets by with a lot of help from his friends. Producers Bryce Goggin and Jon Brion dial up the disc's warm, living-room vibe, while Lee nearly justifies his career with "Hard Drive" and "All My Life," warm and fuzzy new tunes custom-built for his mentor's recovery. And Royston Langdon, former vocalist for neo-glam act Spacehog, wails away like a lesser Thom Yorke on "Waking Up," a hand-clapping pop tune that cross-wires the Beatles with Talking Heads.
Given his drug-addled history and drool-paced work habits, Dando's reliance on so much outside help could be a little worrisome. What is this, some kind of intervention?
Maybe. Mostly, though, "Baby I'm Bored" sounds like a good-time, if strait-laced, hootenanny. Just saying no never sounded better.
(To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8152.)