At first it seems like a letdown that Aaron Freeman’s debut under his birth name, after nearly 30 years spent performing as the “Gene” half of Ween, is a covers album. But give it time, and Marvelous Clouds—featuring songs by the once famous, now obscure poet Rod McKuen—registers as one of Freeman’s more personal statements, a fresh look at the light-and-shadow duality that makes his own work so compelling.
As with McKuen, whose post-Beat poetry collections sold millions and sparked critical wrath in the ’60s and ’70s, Freeman is a polarizing sort. Some have freeze-framed him as the scruffy-haired neohippie they encountered during Ween’s early-’90s MTV breakthrough. Diehards bristle at that assessment, and rightly so: As a series of increasingly rich and moody Ween albums has revealed, Freeman’s cartoonishly elastic vocal prowess is only a tiny facet of his weird allure.
Sure, there’s a certain syrupyness to some of the material on Marvelous Clouds, a stagy sentimentality that Frank Sinatra himself played up when he recorded several of these same songs on 1969’s A Man Alone. But as with the strongest Ween material, Freeman locates stubborn pits of truth within this sweet easy-listening fruit. Lines like “memories of midnights that fell apart at dawn” induce little shivers, especially in light of Freeman’s open-book history with substance abuse. Wednesday’s show affords a chance to toast this unlikely intergenerational communion of sad clowns, each perennially misunderstood and all the richer for it.—Hank Shteamer
Follow Hank Shteamer on Twitter: @DarkForcesSwing