Thirty-plus years on from their classic debut, Love & Hope & Sex & Dreams, BoDeans are still plying their brand of Roots Rock all over America. With the exit of co-founder Sammy Llanas in 2011, Kurt Neumann, the last-standing original BoDean, songwriter and lead singer, leads the current incarnation of the band.
Hailing from Waukesha, Wisc., BoDeans made a big splash with their seminal 1986 debut, which was produced by T Bone Burnett. The band fused rootsy twang, tight harmonies and quality songwriting to spark a budding career that included writing hits, contributing to soundtracks and opening for U2. Two decades later, Burnett came back to produce the BoDeans’ 2008 record Still, a worthy return to their earthy charms. If a music tastemaker extraordinaire like Burnett deigns to produce a few of your records, you know you’ve got something going on.
Like any band able to last so long, BoDeans’ music has evolved with many subtle and not so subtle changes. From their opening Roots salvo in the ’80s to the more mainstream Pop/Rock sheen of mid-’90s hit “Closer to Free” to their consistent melodic, heartland blend over the years, BoDeans continue to release quality music, including last year’s Thirteen. On the album’s plaintive, acoustic opener, “My Hometown,” Neumann’s pleading vocals set the stage for another strong clutch of songs. Llanas’ reedy voice and harmonies are missed, but Neumann’s hushed delivery within the melancholy Pop of “Here Somehow” and the subdued defiance of middle age on “Maggie’s Bar” resonate. The chorus — “It’s closing time but I’m still here” — could be an inspirational mantra for BoDeans’ career.