City of New Orleans

Places and Names

The most immediately compelling songs on Pirner's solo debut are the slow and midtempo numbers of dredged emotions. Unlike, say, Counting Crows' Adam Duritz, Pirner prefers to set romantic melodramas like "Never Recover" after the wallowing, when he's crawling from the wreckage of a relationship with more purpose than self-pity. Likewise, "Teach Me to Breathe" and "Start Treating People Right" open and close the disc with confessional vigor, with vocals and melodies that chug and churn instead of lull and lope.

Pirner's move to New Orleans has been a tonic for his attitude as much as his beats. The two tunes that come closest to adopting the Crescent City's second-line rhythms--"Someday Love" and "I'll Have My Day"--are more notable for a second-chance hopefulness mostly absent from the musician's Soul Asylum material. Also evident are the scars from the commercial roller-coaster ride the band experienced in the music industry. "Feel the Need" is a plainspoken, nearly whispered indictment of materialism, while "Faces & Names" is a stream-of-consciousness fever dream about going to a party naked, watching the building catch fire, and encountering a racist politician who bends his ear. ("My life flashed before me and exploded into flames," Pirner refrains.)

In an interview on his Web site,, Pirner laments not being able to afford to bring the band from the disc--which includes SA drummer Ian Mussington, pianist Pat Samsone, and bassist Anthony Tibbs--on tour with him. But the material here is strong enough, and Pirner now experienced enough at quasi-acoustic shows, to make this Sunday's Woman's Club show a worthy coming-out party for this new phase of his career.

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