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First Listen: The Both, 'The Both'

Aimee Mann and Ted Leo of The Both, whose self-titled debut album comes out April 15.
Christian Lantry
Courtesy of the artist
Aimee Mann and Ted Leo of The Both, whose self-titled debut album comes out April 15.

When solo musicians combine to form a duo, compromise is natural. There's only one spotlight to share, which means figuring out who recedes into the background when, and there's usually a built-in need to find a midpoint between two sounds. To fuse the music of Aimee Mann and Ted Leo is to demand a tremendous stylistic shift of one or the other; Mann's voice is too sullen and soft, and his too barky and frenetic, for them to interlock easily.

Working as half of The Both, Leo has little choice but to mute and soften his approach, and he wears the subtlety surprisingly well while bringing a nice rock 'n' roll kick to Mann's sound. Fizzy, crackling gems like "Milwaukee" and "Volunteers for America" benefit greatly from a jolt not often heard on Mann's solo records. The Both is at its heart a light and agreeable midtempo charmer, but there's a real snap to it throughout.

Mann and Leo swap verses in "You Can't Help Me Now," a sprightly but melancholy ambler that could have been airlifted straight out of the Magnolia soundtrack. Throughout the song and the album, each singer sounds freshened and energized — never diminished — by the collaboration.

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Stephen Thompson is a writer, editor and reviewer for NPR Music, where he speaks into any microphone that will have him and appears as a frequent panelist on All Songs Considered. Since 2010, Thompson has been a fixture on the NPR roundtable podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, which he created and developed with NPR correspondent Linda Holmes. In 2008, he and Bob Boilen created the NPR Music video series Tiny Desk Concerts, in which musicians perform at Boilen's desk. (To be more specific, Thompson had the idea, which took seconds, while Boilen created the series, which took years. Thompson will insist upon equal billing until the day he dies.)
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