The Lemonheads Return with Varshons II

A decade on, Evan Dando offers another cover-up

The one and only Evan Dando

When is a band the real deal or merely a tribute outfit devoted to mimicking their past?

That’s a question easily posed to innumerable vintage bands like Queen, Journey, Jefferson Starship and other outfits that continue to operate with only a scant few original members after the key personnel have either died, abandoned by the band or simply pursued a path of their own. In some cases, only one representative of the initial line-up remains, leaving it to him or her to carry the legacy forward.

Which begs another question — with key comrades gone, wouldn’t it be best to break with the past and create a different and distinct new entity instead?

The Lemonheads Varshons II, Fire Records 2019

The question comes up in the matter of Evan Dando’s latest pursuit of Lemonheads’ largess —  Varshons II, a second set of covers and his first release under the band’s banner in ten years. There’s no faulting the song selection — takes on tracks by such contemporaries as Nick Cave, The Bevis Frond, Yo La Tengo, Lucinda Williams, the Jayhawks, John Prine and Paul Westerberg make for a varied and compelling collection to be sure. Still, hearing Dando’s solitary strum on a song like “Speed of the Sound of Loneliness” or his mournful lament on the anguished “Abandoned” makes one wonder how far afield of the Lemonhead’s punk-turned power pop positioning he’s willing to go. While some songs — “Now and Then,” “Can’t Forget” and “TAQN” in particular — maintain more than a semblance of his otherwise playful perspective, Varshons II is, in practically every real regard, a solo effort in the truest sense, both in its concept and execution. Granted, Dando’s lost none of his patented charm and enthusiasm, but with few exceptions, Varshons II comes across as a sentimental survey of archival classics — cool, classy, and yet fashioned from a very personal perspective.

Which brings us back to the original premise. When does an artist cross the line from fronting and formulating a brand and then decidedly breaking away into a solo sojourn? Purists might argue — and rightfully so — that the Lemonheads have long since given up the ghost and that the band exists in name only given that Dando seems wholly committed to indulging in his own personal pursuits. Who would have ever imagined, even in their wildest dreams, that they’d one day find Dando echoing the Eagles’ “Take It Easy” and doing so with such unabashed enthusiasm. It’s not only diehard devotees that might find that a shock to the system, but also anyone else with even a passing familiarity to the Lemonheads’ legacy. It’s a sweet sound to be sure, but one that rarely conforms to the Lemonheads’ tart trappings. The nostalgic nuances seem far more befitting of what is indeed a singular sojourn than an active ensemble gazing forward towards the future.

Add to that the fact that it’s been nearly 15 years since the band’s last collection of original offerings, which makes the disconnect seem all the more apparent still. Perhaps it’s time that Dando shed the Lemonheads label and took the lid off a dandy Dando solo career instead.

 

Lee Zimmerman

Lee Zimmerman is a writer and columnist based in beautiful Maryville Tennessee. Over the past 20 years, his work has appeared in dozens of leading music publications. He is also the author of Americana Music: Voice, Visionaries, and Pioneers of an Honest Sound, which will be published by Texas A&M University Press early next year.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *