Aimee Mann tries to keep a straight face when she describes her new album, “The Forgotten Arm” (SuperEgo Records), as a concept album, but she just can’t — she shakes her head and her mouth broadens into a goofy grin, as though she doesn’t quite believe it. The album, she deadpanned, is “a sweet and tender little tale” a love story where the hero “has a drug problem and spends Christmas on Skid Row.”
But after opening her set with a quartet of songs from the album and the thumbnail description above, she more or less turns away from it, slipping only three selections from “Arm” among the 14 songs that follow.
The new songs are lovely — rustic yet refined, filled with smart, literate lyrics and cleverly constructed melodies (Mann composes some of the most impressive bridges of any songwriter today) — and the best of them, such as “Going Through the Motions” are as good as anything she’s recorded.
You wish she performed the album as a whole. Performing them piecemeal and without explanation feels like a lost chance, especially for anyone who has caught Mann over the past year at Largo, where her commentary shows the once stage-wary singer-songwriter to be a winning and witty performer.
Still there is much to enjoy in her 90-minute perf. Despite the performances being a little tentative, “Amateur” and “Driving Sideways” remain prime examples of modern-day pop; guitarist Julian Coryell is as adept at the Badfinger-styled slide guitar lines on “Save Me” and “Sugarcoated” as he is at the rangy, jazzier playing called for on “Arm’s” “I Can’t Get My Head Around It” and “I Can’t Help You Anymore.”
Plus it’s fun to watch Mann spar with her fans. She’s not afraid of taking requests; her half-remembered take on “Invisible Ink” was goofily charming.
Mann plays Gotham’s Roseland Ballroom on June 10.