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Exiles in 'lawyerland'

The BoDeans rebound after a series of setbacks

The BoDeans are the archetypical American hometown band. Even though several original members have departed ways and only singer/guitarist Sam Llanas still resides in Milwaukee, Wis., the melodic rockers remain well connected to the area where Llanas and his fellow songwriter/singer/guitarist Kurt Neumann formed the band some 22 years ago. Their latest release and second double live album, Homebrewed, was recorded at Milwaukee's historic Pabst Theater, and it's their first for Back Porch Records, a roots-rock label that's also based in the beer-centric River City.

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"It just kind of made sense to do it that way," says Llanas about the multiple hometown connections. "Back Porch is no stranger to the roots-rock crowd and we've been working with new management that's helping to sort out the old business at hand. We released the double live CD and have been busy with putting together a new studio record. So, after being bogged down for a while, we're definitely moving forward now."

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The BoDeans first caught on with college radio audiences in 1986 with their T-Bone Burnett-produced debut Love & Hope & Sex & Dreams. With infectious tracks like "She's a Runaway" and "Say You Will," Love & Hope provided fuel for a slew of would-be roots rockers including the Gin Blossoms and the Wallflowers. Most folks, though, became acquainted with the band a good 10 years later courtesy of "Closer to Free," an upbeat, jangly track from 1993's Go Slow Down that later became the theme song for the TV teen drama "Party of Five." Aside from gaining exposure among younger listeners, "Closer to Free" gave the band a hit single during a time when that was about the furthest thing from their minds.

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"At that point, it was a nice shot in the arm, just to have a hit song. Even some of the biggest bands in the world haven't had that," Llanas recollects. "The other thing about it is that it happened so late in our career that we'd been surviving for over 10 years without a hit record, so it wasn't like all of a sudden some newfound success was gonna change the band. We took it all with a grain of salt. Though I'm glad that the unexpected boost happened, I also think we'd have kept on going with or without it."

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Despite the rewarding chart success, many events occurred between the release of 1996's Blend and 2004's Resolution albums that put the BoDeans' resolve to the test. Both Neumann and Llanas recorded solo records while the band was on a temporary hiatus. Neumann's marriage split up during that time and, to make matters worse, much of he and Llanas' energy was funneled into a lengthy court battle with their former management company over unpaid back royalties.

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"We ran into some unforeseen troubles along the way," confirms Llanas. "I took a year to make a solo record as did Kurt. Neither of us thought it would take that long. When your band isn't steadily making records, that doesn't mean it's not still functioning; it just means you're concerned with other things. You still have to get out there, play shows and make a living. The court thing, too, was just a real drag. Basically a two-year depletion of all our creative energies. Fortunately, now we're free to move on in a positive way, so everybody's excited about that."

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He'd rather not discuss it at length, but Llanas is relieved that the case has finally been settled. That allows the current incarnation of the BoDeans to make up for time lost during their extended stay in "complete and total lawyerland." The current lineup features Llanas, Neumann, bassist Bob Griffin, keyboardist Bukka Allen (son of Texas fringe country performer Terry Allen) and Melissa Etheridge/John Mellencamp drummer Kenny Aronoff. They're currently recording that next studio record in Austin, Texas, where Neumann now resides. Llanas and Neumann are able to breathe more easily these days with bad business no longer obscuring the big picture. Now's the time to make the most of their long-awaited second wind.

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