God, I really am getting old. I was a couple of years out of college when I was seduced by the jangly indie-pop sweetness of The Lemonheads' It's A Shame About Ray, the album that served notice that Evan Dando was way more than just a pretty face. Released in 1992, it's one of the albums I keep going back to every couple of years or so to get a taste of its wistful romanticism, lithe acoustic sway and good-natured, sun-baked vibes.
On March 25, Rhino will put out a special CD/DVD Collector's Edition of It's A Shame About Ray. A promo copy of it landed on my desk this week, and, in typical Rhino fashion, it's a remarkable package. Along with a remastered version of the original album, it includes a slew of rough, skeletal demos that provide fascinating insight into the evolution of gems like "Rockin' Stroll," "My Drug Buddy" and "Kitchen" and create an intimate relationship with these songs you don't get from the album versions. The DVD, titled "Two Weeks In Australia," sprinkles in live footage and videos in a tour diary conducted by Dando.
One of the landmark albums of the '90s, It's A Shame About Ray signaled a change in direction for The Lemonheads. No longer the noisy little brother of American underground giants Dinosaur Jr. and The Replacements, The Lemonheads had matured into a brightly colored pop three-piece, capable of producing melancholic beauty (the sublime title track, plus the hopeful "Rudderless"), jaunty power-pop with barbed hooks ("Confetti," "Rockin' Stroll," and "Alison's Starting to Happen"), bittersweet acoustic strum ("My Drug Buddy") and a punked-up, whip-smart cover of Simon & Garfunkel's "Mrs. Robinson." And, as a bonus, you got Juliana Hatfield backing up Dando on "My Drug Buddy" with vocals that were pretty and biting — see her yelling "I just want a bit part in your life!" at the beginning of "Bit Part."
Though it didn't completely erase their punk past, It's A Shame About Ray was more about sunny, laid-back melodies that also tugged at your heartstrings, Gram Parsons-influenced country ("Hannah & Gabi") and lyrics that took a light-hearted, but sometimes painful, look at relationships and dysfunctional adulthood.
For more information on this release, visit www.rhino.com. Two years ago, The Lemonheads came back strong with a self-released effort on Vagrant Records. To learn more about it and to see what else the band's been up to lately, visit www.thelemonheads.net/