- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 20, 2001

A flower in bloom — a magnolia — brought Aimee Mann to the pinnacle of her fame last year. The 39-year-old lyricist and musician, like a flower in bloom herself, is writing better songs than ever and delivering them in an unforgettable way.

Miss Mann wrote eight of the 11 songs for the "Magnolia" soundtrack and was nominated last year for an Oscar for one of them, "Save Me."

Miss Mann — with husband-lyricist-musician Michael Penn — played for three consecutive nights this week at the Birchmere Music Hall in Alexandria. All shows were sold out, and no wonder — the duo sure can perform.

After a half-hour of stand-up comedy entertainment — neither artist likes to talk between songs so they hire comedians to speak for them — the Monday opening-night show began with Miss Mann's emotional song "One."

The song is one of the hits from "Magnolia." Three of the songs from the soundtrack also are on Miss Mann's latest record, "Bachelor No. 2 (or the Last Remains of the Dodo)."

The musician dates back almost two decades, to when she had her first hit — "Voices Carry" — while with group 'Til Tuesday in the early 1980s.

Miss Mann went solo a few years later and since has released three albums. In 1993 came "Whatever" and then "I'm With Stupid."

Although her success was recognized in the early 1990s, those years were tough for Miss Mann, whose first record label, Imago, went belly up. She then signed with Geffen, but her second album was held up until 1995. By the time she was finishing work on "Bachelor," she had disagreements with her new bosses (Geffen had merged with Interscope) and ended up buying the rights to the album from them in 1998.

She finally released the record last year when she formed her own label, SuperEgo.

Mr. Penn's climb to success also has taken awhile. His 1989 debut album, "March," was a hit. But not his second record, "Free-for-All." Then came "Resigned" and last year's release of "MP4 (Days Since a Lost Time Accident)," by Epic Records.

The duo, who tied the knot in 1998, took turns performing at the Birchmere and kept the audience enthralled for more than two hours. They did not only popular songs, but also new, good music.

Touring under the banner "Acoustic Vaudeville," the couple serve as backup singers for each other. Two guitarists, a drummer and a pianist complete the band.

Besides "Save Me," Miss Mann also did undeniably great songs such "The Fall of the World's Own Optimist," which she co-wrote with Elvis Costello.

The sounds of "Calling It Quits," "Susan," "Red Vines," "Wise Up" and "Deathly" also filled the Birchmere. All the songs are stunning. They are heavy and light at the same time — delivered in a conversational manner that is chilling considering the deep emotions in the songs.

Among Mr. Penn's numbers were "Don't Let Me Go," from his latest record, and "Bedlam Boys," from his debut album.




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