Collage titled Students in Heidelberg by Max Ernst, 1921
"Stockholm Syndrome" was one of the best songs on Yo La Tengo's 1997 album I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One, and hearing it when it came out made me take notice of Yo La Tengo's bassist James McNew for the first time. I'm not the best at differentiating between vocalists in bands, so it took me several listens to realize that McNew sang lead on "Stockholm Syndrome", which meant that he probably wrote it as well - I was impressed. That song by itself is basis enough for going out and buying the records of McNew's solo project Dump. I wrote earlier this year about his Prince covers album That Skinny Motherf***er with the High Voice, but A Grown-Ass Man is the first album of Dump originals I've acquired. I picked it up at the Matador 21 show in Vegas, where they had pretty much any Matador-released or Matador-related CD you might be looking for.
If you're looking for an album that fully delivers on the promise of "Stockholm Syndrome", A Grown-Ass Man might be a disappointment. Nothing on the record quite reaches the pure pop goodness of that song or a few others that he has done with his main gig (like "Tiny Birds" or "Mr. Tough"). But it's a pretty good lo-fi version of the Yo La Tengo approach to pop music, if that's what you're looking for. McNew throws out a few folky tracks, a couple covers, a few soulful numbers, and two extended jams. Surprisingly, the album has a lightweight feel to it that you might not expect from a bass-player's music, but it's a good match for McNew's thin falsetto voice. Neither of the album's extended tracks is very groove-oriented, for example - "Sisters" is stretched-out twee pop, and "Daily Affirmation" is a shoegaze-y guitar workout.
The covers on A Grown-Ass Man are well-chosen and well-executed - the best is probably his version of the Marvin-Gaye-Mary-Wells duet "Once Upon a Time" (sung with Sue Garner), but he also turns in creative versions of Thin Lizzy's "Cowboy Song" and, most surprisingly, "Mr. Too Damn Good" by '90s R&B singer Gerald Levert. Predictably, though, my favorite tracks on A Grown-Ass Man are those that stick close to the "Stockholm Syndrome" mold of delicate acoustic balladry with a '70s-AM sound. "I Wish/You Wish", "I'm On Your Side", and "Silver Lining" are all pretty great, with the latter track being my favorite on the record.
"Silver Lining" by Dump