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Through A Man's Eyes 

The Mekons' Sally Timms seeks answers In the World of Him

The year was 2000, and the Mekons' Sally Timms was getting up close and personal with what the British refer to as "putting the boot in."

A more visceral turn of phrase than the American equivalent "piling it on," in this instance however, the Leeds, England native wasn't the one wearing the boot; it was life's foot doing the honors, and in a myriad of unpleasant forms. First, Timms lost one of her parents, then the other in short order. Her marriage had run its course in the meantime. A promising new relationship followed -- only to disintegrate shortly after without much warning.

Having just entered her 40s, Timms found herself in emotional free-fall. It was, as she says by phone from New York, a "very dark period."

Timms eventually gave voice to her grief and the existential issues it raised in the form of her critically acclaimed new record, In the World of Him, a collection of songs almost exclusively by men. Sung from their perspective, the themes include commitment and abandonment, sexual power battles, war, and the frustrating inability to communicate. While other female artists have explored the male psyche by singing material written by men, Timms' emotional narrative gets its power because it's from the vantage point of a fully mature woman.

"It's funny how people read it," Timms says, "it's definitely not intended to be some sort of finger-wagging record that's accusatory in any way. They're men's perspectives on men, or men trying to explain themselves to women when they've failed, or apologized. Singing those songs as a woman, the point was that men are complex, just as women are complex, and that human beings have difficulty expressing themselves."

Men discussing their inability to communicate - even as they're communicating that inability quite well in song -- was a prime catalyst for Timms. But none of that would matter if she hadn't pulled off such an intriguing sounding record so well. Making subtle but effective use of tape loops and glitches to augment the more traditional instrumentation, the songs of fellow Mekon Jon Langford, Mark Eitzel (American Music Club), Johnny Dowd, Kevin Coyne and Ryan Adams ("Fools We Are As Men") undergo the musical equivalent of electro-shock therapy under Timms' vision. What emerges is a cohesive, fundamentally feminine spin.

"I wanted to make a record that wasn't necessarily an easy listen," Timms says, citing Nico's The Marble Index (1969) as one template, "something a little more challenging, that taxed the listener a little...I wanted to make something more adult, about things adult people deal with, the difficult stuff of relationships, people's relationship with the world, or the way the world is run -- those kinds of things."

But a musical challenge and probing themes do not make the record remotely inaccessible, or "wildly experimental," as Timms puts it. There is a near-cabaret feel to In the World of Him, one that she says comes in part from the songs' narrative forms and strong melodies, as well as the fact that it's a woman singing them.

"They're pretty dramatic songs" she adds.

Exuding the strongest cabaret vibe is Johnny Dowd's, "139 Hernalser Gürtel," which Timms imbues with a circus-like, calliope feel. The country noirist Dowd also figures prominently as Timms' backing band on this tour. The mutual admiration began with his Pictures From Life's Other Side (1999), which made a big impression on the Mekons as they were set to tour in support of 2000's Journey to the End of the Night.

"We were pretty insistent that we would like to take them as our opener, and they of course blew us off (the stage) every night," Timms says, admitting that that particular Mekons' tour was not their best. "We're a pretty lively live band, but that tour I remember as being pretty grim."

It doesn't take a psychoanalyst to imagine that Timms' collapsing emotional world had some-thing to do with her perception of that period. And that's what In the World of Him subcon-sciously addresses. The results, Ms. Timms?

"People asked me if it was cathartic, and, no, not really, it wasn't," she says, laughing heartily. "But then I don't think I was really that mad in the first place. Nothing happened to me that doesn't happen to everyone, but it was a real watershed for me in my life. I still think I'm probably trying to work out exactly how, though."

Sally Timms plays the Evening Muse Tuesday at 8pm with Johnny Dowd; tickets are $9

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