Gordon Gano, once the voice of the Violent Femmes, no longer sings like a defiant, petulant adolescent. But on Under the Sun, his debut with the Ryans, Gano still sounds a bit full of himself, and sometimes it's still difficult to tell if he's singing from the heart or if he's being ironic or sardonic. On the downcast and reflective "Under The Sun," Gano sounds like a man at the end of his rope, pensively and unreservedly summing up a life as much as Sinatra did with "It Was a Very Good Year." But "Home" recaps nearly every "wandering, downhearted performer of song" cliché there is. Is he parodying working-musician angst or wallowing in it? His band — former Bogmen Billy and Brendan Ryan — provide versatile spunk. They can make Balkan folk-flavored moves ("Oholah Oholibah") and somber, arty singer-songwriter rock (think Scott Walker or even Stephen Sondheim) and make it sound unaffected and heartfelt. The loping "Better Than You Know," a pert satire on self-knowledge (maybe), has a lilting, urbane groove recalling Katy Lied-era Steely Dan. Non-fans of the Femmes: Sun will not likely change your mind. Fans of the Femmes and wise-ass songsters are encouraged to dig in. — Mark Keresman
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