Azure Ray's ''Drawing Down the Moon''

Every year brings its share of unlikely reunions, some welcome, some not so much. But this year sees three reunions from acts that few but the most devoted fans were even aware had broken up, or that they’d ever existed all that much outside of a semi-forgotten hit or two. Coincidentally, they each represent one of the last three decades of alternative pop and rock.

The most recently broken up of the three groups is Azure Ray, the duo of singer-songwriters Maria Taylor and Orenda Fink, who, after releasing their fourth CD Hold On Love in 2003, both embarked on solo careers. Maria Taylor has since released three CDs of increasingly commercial folk-pop, while Orenda Fink, aside from her two solo albums, has also released music as leader of the band Art In Manila, and in O+S, a partnership with dj Scalpelist. Though their solo careers have taken them in diverging directions, neither of them have drifted too far from the haunted, delicately technologized southern gothic sounds they produced in the early ‘00s with songs like “Sleep” (heard pretty prominently on the soundtrack of The Devil Wears Prada) and “New Resolution” which boasted one of the last decade’s most strangely fascinating videos.

Azure Ray “New Resolution” (1993)

Their just-released reunion album Drawing Down the Moon sounds less like a “Now, where were we?” follow-up to the duo’s 2003 album than it reads as the proper follow-up to each of the individual singer-songwriters’ previous solo projects, as if the two roads diverging in the wood had merged back together. Produced by longtime associate Eric Bachmann (formerly of Archers of Loaf, currently of Crooked Fingers) who is shown on the back cover holding both women facing inward to his brawny southern bosom (it’s this kind of disturbing/amazing cover photography that makes me endlessly grateful for the endurance of the LP format). To my mind, their latest single is the closest thing to a potential radio hit as they’ve ever released.

Azure Ray “Don’t Leave My Mind” (2010)

Representing the 90s is Tonic who released their self-titled reunion album this spring and even scored a minor hit on the adult pop charts with a scrappily appealing acoustic/electric rocker called “Release Me”. Tonic is best known for their forbidding post-grunge classic “If You Could Only See”, a dark, Forensics Files-ready epistle from one man to the husband/boyfriend/lover of the woman he loves: “Maybe you’d understand why I feel this way about our love and what I must do / if could only see how blue her eyes can be when she says – when she says she loves me.” Cue the apocalyptically stabbing guitar hook and the trailer park murder plot.

Tonic “If You Could Only See” (1996)

Tonic released three albums in the late 90s, never replicating (or even approaching) the success (or the ubiquity) of that debut single. In the ensuing years lead singer Emerson Hart has pursued a solo career and in 2007 released one of my favorite recent pop ballads “I Wish the Best For You”. The new album largely steers clear of the shadowy intrigue of their biggest hit, opting instead for sunny pop/rock melodies that recall Vertical Horizon. My absolute favorite song from the record is called “Daffodils” and had I first heard it on the radio, I probably would have mistaken it for a Del Amitri reunion single – it’s got great harmonies on the chorus and a sweetly yearning chorus with Hart leaping up into a clear falsetto. You can check out samples of each of the new album’s track at the band’s website, and while there, leave ’em your e-mail and they’ll send you a free download of “Daffodils” for your troubles.

Finally, there’s the synth-pop duo of Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys collectively known as Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, who, in the 80s scored a massive hit with “If You Leave” from the Pretty In Pink soundtrack. Though the group’s fortunes faded in the late 80s, they continued recording, releasing three studio albums in the 90s. Still their latest record, called History of Modern, marks the group’s first new music since since the Clinton Administration. Lead single “If You Want It” is a great big sing-along anthem that, as one YouTube commenter put it “sounds like x-mas”. It’s got a beautiful video as well, featuring a ballet routine as performed for the duo in a darkened theater. Really great stuff.

Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark “If You Want It” (2010)