The Both "The Both"

It’s not so much that opposites attract as opposites balance each other in the case of The Both, a new collaboration between Aimee Mann and Ted Leo. Mann is renowned for her contemplative ballads and intricate wordplay. Leo, both as solo artist and as frontman for The Pharmacists, approaches music from an aggressive, post-punk stance. As a duo – or band as they refer to the project - Leo pulls out Mann’s jagged edges while she finesses his language.

The Both is a stripped down affair with most of the songs featuring Leo on electric guitar, Mann on bass and acoustic guitar, and Scott Seiver’s precise percussion. Producer Paul Bryan throws in his own occasional keyboard. “The Gambler,” the album opener features Leo’s raw guitar licks and it is his voice we hear first. It would be easy to assume this is his song but the pair has made it clear that all songs are collaborative despite who may have originated the idea. What becomes immediately apparent is how perfectly their voices work as a unit, despite what Mann has called “the Karen Carpenter quality” of her vocals. She keeps pace with his energy level and he proves to be adept at delivering perfect pop phrasing.

Any collaboration between solo artists offers a chance to grow beyond one’s skill set but that also involves the ability to set aside one’s ego. Leo’s loose approach to writing is tightened up by what he calls Mann’s exactitude of language. For her part, Mann gets to rock in a way she hasn’t before and is appears she is savoring the experience. There is a palpable energy to these smart songs, but still the pair manages to slip in the wry, cryptic attitude that has been a part of each of their work.

Mann and Leo site the Thin Lizzy song “Honesty Is No Excuse” as the inspiration for the album. The tale of addiction and unsentimental confession walks a fine line between darkness and the surge of energy elicited by self-examination. The pair tears into this track with high spirits and shredding guitar work by Leo. Mann is expert in creating gorgeous melodies and Leo is a grand master at fraying their edges.

Rosemary Welsch (Afternoon Mix)Opposites attract as Aimee Mann and Ted Leo join forces