Professor & Maryann – Runaway Favorite

Professor & Maryann
Runaway Favorite

Recently I worried that every record that came my way would eventually elicit the same response. At first I would be resistant only to be won over, at least to some degree, by the repetitious listenings demanded by this position. I feared my path in music criticism would mimic that of the estimable food critic Homer Simpson, doomed to love everything he ate, just because he loved to eat. I’m happy to say that, four records into my career, that dragon has been slain with the help of the Professor & Maryann.
Though not purely a duo, the bulk of this misfire is attributable to the vocals of raven-haired looks-like-trouble Danielle Brancaccio and the guitars/vocals/tunes of Ken Rockwood. Her singing combines the annoying quaver of Stevie Nicks with an effected, showy breathiness that has her blowing gusts of hot air through her nose at the end of many lines. Relatively unadorned by harmonies, it’s her sad task to try and sell these oddly forgettable songs. She does so by emoting in a manner I found both irritating and insincere, leaving me yearning for the detached and undemonstrative voice of the standard indie chanteuse.
And if her approach to singing does her few favors, neither do the compositions of her bandmate, who is responsible for penning all 11 of these casualties. Strings of chords that have proven themselves capable of providing the bedrock for good to great songs throughout pop history are employed here to a stridently mediocre effect. Strumming along in a late-period REM fashion, the sound is familiar and inviting with various acoustic string instruments giving the proceedings an earthy Americana feel. Unfortunately, songs like “Bible and a Gun,” “Whisper to Me,” and “Roof of the World” go nowhere, at least not anywhere I wanted to go. Instead they amble through their tastefully produced motions, reminding one of other, much better songs that you’d rather be listening to.
It can’t be said that there are no qualities to recommend, though they are few. The chorus of “Thick as Thieves” does have a minor-key appeal that bears repeated listening. This is one of three songs sung by the Professor, and his voice is a liability as well, a high pitched squeak with its own off-putting style. He also has the misfortune of taking the microphone for the daft “World of Clowns,” the absolute low point of this whole affair. The stately waltz of “Chariot,” however, has the most success with the formula, catching the ear and pulling attention toward it. Mandolins (or what sounds like mandolins) flutter under one of the more straightforward vocal performances on the disc with only a brief so-so bridge to interrupt the pleasantries. But the silver lining ends there, people.
With a decade of working together behind them, you have to admire their tenacity in a very tough business, but maybe it’s time for the Professor to kick Maryann off the island (which in this case would be Staten, I believe) and find someone with less grating mannerisms to put these songs across. As for Runaway Favorite, I’d have to encourage the listener to follow the advice of Monty Python’s fictional King Arthur when confronted with underwhelming odds: Runaway!