- The Washington Times - Monday, December 18, 2006

More than 20 years after introducing herself to the public with “Voices Carry,” the hit single with her group ‘Til Tuesday, Aimee Mann continues to flourish. Since the 1980s, the singer-songwriter has ceaselessly crafted intelligent pop songs and maintained a slow, steady burn fueled by a constant source: the desire to create quality music rather than cover her walls with platinum-record plaques.

Sure, she occasionally has set off flares that have sparked great attention — including the songs that inspired the film “Magnolia,” one of which, “Save Me,” earned her an Oscar nomination.

Mostly, though, Miss Mann has chosen to smolder rather than flash.

The strongest evidence of this came in 1999, when the Richmond native severed ties with the major-record-label world (specifically Geffen/Interscope) after failing to reach an agreement over her musical direction.

“There were definitely times when I thought, ‘I can’t deal with this anymore,’ ” the alto-voiced Miss Mann recalls, “and the most difficult it gets is when the record labels start trying to interfere with your music — because then you can’t take refuge in it.”

Some artists, she says, learn to deal with recording-industry impositions, but for Miss Mann, “it was impossible.”

“I wasn’t interested,” she says. “How they work that system is, ‘You wanna be a big star, right?’ Well, I don’t want to be a big star.”

Instead, Miss Mann created her own imprint, SuperEgo, and let her inner boss guide her. To date, she has released three original albums on her label: “Bachelor No. 2,” “Lost in Space” and “The Forgotten Arm.” She also put out a new Christmas disc, “One More Drifter in the Snow,” which arrived in stores Oct. 24.

In support of the album, Miss Mann is on tour with her Aimee Mann’s 1st Annual Christmas Show. It rolls into town for a two-night engagement tonight and tomorrow at the Birchmere.

Both the album and tour have been a pleasant departure for Miss Mann, whose music often explores the complexity of human relationships. This time, though, her signature introspective soul-searching has been replaced (for the time being) by 10 tunes on her new disc that hew to seasonal tradition — ranging from the sultry “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” to the snarky “You’re a Mean One Mr. Grinch” and from the nostalgic “Whatever Happened to Christmas” (by Jimmy Webb) to the slightly melancholic “Calling on Mary.” Miss Mann and producer Paul Bryan co-wrote the latter song — a haunting ballad infused with lingering loneliness — especially for the new album.

“I’ve never done a record of someone else’s songs,” she says. “As a musician, it’s really fun to just concentrate on singing and not have to play guitar or anything. It certainly frees you up to have a bunch of different songs to choose from, and Lord knows that there are millions of Christmas songs out there.”

Miss Mann’s Christmas show combines her holiday tunes with original songs she has written over the years and also features a number of musical and comedic guest artists. However, the bill is so varied from stop to stop that she’s not sure who will show up. Still, she did say that musician-comedian Fred Armisen will serve as host for the Birchmere date and singer-songwriter Grant Lee Phillips will narrate the Grinch number.

“It’s a little bit of a high-wire act because every night is different,” Miss Mann says. “[But] I like the feeling of a free-for-all because it makes it fresh and interesting.”

WHAT: Aimee Mann’s 1st Annual Christmas Show

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. tonight and tomorrow

WHERE: The Birchmere, 3701 Mt. Vernon Ave., Alexandria


PHONE: 703/549-7500

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