February 4, 2019 The Lemonheads – Varshons 2 (Album Review)
In the Alternative Rock world, Evan Dando will forever be hailed as one of the genre’s charming purveyors especially during its peak and most fertile period—the ebullient and mighty ’90s. His band The Lemonheads’ breakthrough album—1992’s It’s a Shame about Ray—is one of the decade’s top gems.
The Lemonheads was formed in 1986, in Boston, Massachusetts, United States. The Dando-led little outfit took five full albums before it broke into the so-called mainstream side of Alternative Rock music. Three more albums ensued until The Lemonheads began to fade out and eventually disbanded in 1997. In the interim, Dando embarked on a low-profile solo career, which was comprised by a lone solo album, 2003’s Baby, I’m Bored—and a slew of acoustic-oriented shows around the Alternative circuit.
Then, in 2005, Dando reformed The Lemonheads, releasing a self-titled album in the year that followed—simply picking up where the band’s last work had left off—upbeat, quirky, and sprightly short songs full of sunshine and glee. Two years after, the band, which was known for including peculiar renditions of songs from various other genres in their albums, unleashed its first all-covers offering, titled Varshons, which also continued Dando’s longtime dalliance with Country music.
After a full decade had passed, still under the guise of The Lemonheads, Dando has decided to follow up the band’s previous album with its apt second part. Slated to be released on Friday, February 8, 2019, through Fire Records, Varshons 2 is a jukebox of the usually eclectic versions of songs by the likes of Yo La Tengo, Nick Cave, The Eagles, Paul Westerberg, The Jayhawks, and Lucinda Williams.
Varshons 2 starts with a ’60s Country Surf air of Yo La Tengo’s “Can’t Forget.” Following next in the same vibes are The Jayhawks’ “Settled Down like Rain” and “Old Man Blank” by the rather obscure but very prolific British musical group The Bevis Frond. Then there is a smoother and poppier take on fellow ’90s luminary Paul Westerberg’s “Things.”
The Lemonheads then take the listener farther down the rootsy and folksy countryside with an acoustic guitar performance of American Folk/Country Singer John Prine’s “Speed of the Sound of Loneliness;” a sleepy Pub Rock “Abandoned,” originally by Lucinda Williams; a proper Honky-Tonk Country song, “Now and Then” by Natural Child; an engaging “Magnet” by NRBQ; a sweet guitar lullaby, Florida Georgia Line’s “Round Here.”
Dando and his comrades then surprise the listener by going back to Punk mode, as they thrash into the saccharine noise of The Eyes’ “TAQN.” Another unexpected change of style comes next with the Reggae-filled “Unfamiliar” by The GiveGoods. Dando then conjures his Gothic Country predisposition with Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds’ “Straight to You,” even emulating the iconic vocalist’s deadpan, low ad raspy voice. Finally, Dando and the rest of The Lemonheads conclude Varshons 2 cheerily with The Eagles’ “Take It Easy,” further displaying Dando’s true musical spirit.
Apparently, Dando has written new original materials in the previous years, but they are yet to surface in their proper The Lemonheads form. In the meantime, Varshons 2 is a considerable proxy while the often unpredictable songwriter is perhaps still mustering his old youthful energy to finish his own compositions. For what it’s worth and all its intent, Varshons 2 is a decent and engaging album, enough to sustain the anticipation of longtime fans for a proper The Lemonheads record. That is why Cryptic Rock gives Varshons 2, 4 out of 5 stars.