The Weepies "Sirens"

Deb Talan and Steve Tannen turn a health crisis into an album of pristine folk-pop.

Deb Talan and Steve Tannen built a thriving music career by joining forces in the early 2000s as The Weepies. In 2007 they married and now share their Iowa home with three children. The trajectory of their lives seemed set until December 2013, when Talan was diagnosis with stage 3 breast cancer. Facing an uncertain future, the duo began writing and recording the new songs in their home studio. In 2014 the band announced that Talan’s cancer was in remission. Although Sirens isn’t specifically a “cancer record” the experience can’t help but impact the album, creating both a depth of emotion and a focused sense of urgency.

Sirens opens with “River from the Sky” a pensive rumination on the passage of time. “No Trouble,” although written about divorce and before the cancer diagnosis, fits the concept of fate being in control of our lives. The title track, sung in plaintive tones by Deb Talan, calls on regrets and loss. Many of her vocals were recorded while she underwent chemotherapy, which enhances the vulnerability in her voice.

Despite the circumstances of the recording the album isn’t all solemnity. There’s plenty of pop loveliness to lift the spirit including “Never Let You Down,” “Early Morning Riser,” and the timely “Boys Who Want to Be Girls.” The pair also throw in a couple of covers including Tom Petty’s “Learning To Fly” and Mark Geary’s “Volunteers.”

Although the couple was isolated during Talan’s treatment and recovery they have plenty of good company on the album. Joining them are Pete Thomas and Steve Nieve – both members of Elvis Costello’s band The Attractions. Matt Chamberlain of Pearl Jam, Remi Jaffe keyboardist for The Wallflower and bassist Tony Levin are among the other players. There’s a reason why such illustrious musicians traveled to Iowa to record with Talan and Tannen. It’s as simple as extraordinary talent is drawn to more extraordinary talent, particularly in times of crisis.

Rosemary Welsch (Afternoon Mix)