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Review: Evan Dando returns with Lemonheads’ album of covers

February 5, 2019
This cover image released by Fire Records shows "Varshons 2," the latest release by The Lemonheads. (Fire Records via AP)

The Lemonheads, “Varshons 2” (Fire Records)

Cover versions have played a conflicting role for Evan Dando and The Lemonheads, their takes on “Luka” and “Mrs. Robinson” clearing paths but also boxing them in for some listeners.

Nonetheless, 2009′s “Varshons” — with songs by Gram Parsons, Wire and Leonard Cohen, among others — was hailed as an excellent if stopgap effort until the surely imminent release of original material.

Barely a decade on, “Vershons 2” follows up and reprises the quality of its predecessor but hopes for a full album of self-penned material have mostly dissipated. So get used to Evan Dando as interpreter instead of songwriter — with so long between releases, there’ll be plenty of time to adjust.

In most cases, Dando respects the original arrangements, with his de-stressed and bittersweet vocals adding an extra layer of emotion to excellent songs, like Paul Westerberg’s “Things,” NRBQ’s “Magnet,” and Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds’ “Straight to You.”

Nashville’s Natural Child get a tip of the hat with “Now and Then,” which has three guitarists, a “Brimful of Asha”-like rhythm and will hopefully send listeners their way. On some tracks — John Prine’s “Speed of the Sound of Loneliness” and Lucinda Williams’ “Abandoned,” for example — Dando picks up some of the vocal fingerprints of the originals, which comes across as endearing where it could be irritating.

Marciana Jones — part of TSP with Dando and Willy Mason — contributes some excellent backing vocals throughout and shares the spotlight with Dando on the Jayhawks’ “Settled Down Like Rain.” Other bands covered include Yo La Tengo, The Bevis Frond, and country duo Florida Georgia Line.

Is closer “Take It Easy,” the Eagles’ anthem of the laid back, Dando’s tongue-in-cheek allusion to his slacker tag? Is “Varshons 3″ next or, at long last, his own songs? Better have a seat while you wait.

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