Following Be My Thrill by five years that included an addition to the family and a health ordeal, indie folk duo the Weepies return, healthy and in form, with a number of unexpected high-profile guests on the charming and heartfelt Sirens. The title is a reference to the mythological creatures that lured sailors to their deaths with song, and also to ambulance sirens. Much of the album was recorded in their home studio during Deb Talan's treatment for breast cancer, which left her -- and by extension her husband and bandmate, Steve Tannen -- unable to travel. Several guest musicians stepped in via remote to contribute performances to the record, including guitarist Gerry Leonard (David Bowie), bassist Tony Levin (King Crimson), drummers Matt Chamberlain (Pearl Jam) and Pete Thomas (Elvis Costello & the Attractions), and keyboardists Steve Nieve (Elvis Costello) and Rami Jaffee (the Wallflowers). At 16 tracks, Sirens may sound like an opus, but with only one song longer than four minutes, a mix of tempos, a balance of whimsical and more serious songs, sequencing that propels the album forward, and the sheer quality of the tunes, it's anything but a burdensome listen. On the buoyant side, the Tannen-led "Never Let You Down" offers poppy sweetness and singsong bass, and the acoustic "My Little Love" is a Buddy Holly take on a harmonized lullaby. On the more delicate end of the spectrum, the title track is a moving ballad that references both meanings of "sirens," with a particularly engaging vocal delivery, even more so upon learning that Talan's voice was recorded in one take on a day her condition would not allow more attempts. She doesn't sound ill (anywhere on the record, for that matter) but there's a poignancy to the performance that's conspicuous and affecting. The piqued tone of the driving "No Trouble" ("Don't need no trouble/But it's plain to see/Sometimes trouble needs me"), the atypical chord progressions of "Wild Boy," and the Cab Calloway-style melodic rap of the grooving "Fancy Things" are among other ear-arousing moments on a well-crafted set. Beyond the 14 original songs, Sirens also includes two covers that were 11th-hour additions to the album in Jeff Lynne and Tom Petty's "Learning to Fly" and Mark Geary's "Volunteer." The latter is a touching saga of loss sung vulnerably by Tannen with Gerry Leonard on guitar and Jon Flaugher (Ryan Adams, Joshua Radin) on bass; the former a capable rival to the original '90s hit, with a support band of Leonard, Flaugher, Jaffee, Brad Gordon on piano, and Frank Lenz on drums.
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AllMusic Review by Marcy Donelson