Aimee Mann & Rhiannon Giddens at Woodland Park Zoo

For her latest album, “Mental Illness”, Aimee Mann stripped her music down to the bare essentials and created a collection of music that hides seriously mournful themes behind agrarian harmonies. It’s a beautiful combination and, once you scratch below the surface, you realize that Aimee is struggling with her own demons. During the introduction to her new, gorgeous song “Rollercoasters” at Woodland Park Zoo, she said the song is “if John Denver is too edgy for you.”

While her newest recording is stripped down to her songwriting core, she’s beefed up her live show with a solid, mostly acoustic quartet. Paul Bryan played bass while beautifully harmonizing with Aimee throughout. Jaimie Edwards brought strings to the table with his keyboards adding a subtle depth to the sound.

Her one-hour set was evenly divided between new and old. Moth & Flame to Labrador to Drive Forever. Aimee introduced some levity when describing “Goose Snowcone” as being a song inspired by a photo of a cat she knew with a white face a cone around its head.

One of her most uplifting tunes, “Save Me” came towards the end before she brought out Ted Leo, her bandmate in The Both. Ted turned the volume up with his electric guitar finishing out the set with “Goodbye Caroline” and “Long Shot”. The audience was quiet and contemplative throughout the show giving her lyrical nuances the respect they deserve.

Opening the evening was the enigmatic Rhiannon Giddens, pouring her heart into an hour set of Americana ranging from old-time music to Cajun to Jig. Her set was the story of the American South and, having grown up in Georgia, I felt like I was home again.

She killed the crowd with an amazing rendition of Odetta’s “Jack of Diamonds” before bringing her sister out for an acapella gospel straight from the church stage. She ended her set with Staple Singers “Freedom Highway”. Her voice is a wonderful thing and she used it to great effect throughout. She’s not bad on the fiddle, either. Overall, this was a totally enjoyable evening of music.

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