When you grace the stage and tour with the likes of a lyrical craftsman such as Nick Lowe, one might be lucky enough to listen and learn. Singer-songwriter Eleni Mandell had that good fortune a few years ago, and the result seems to have had some of Lowe's simple but stylish traits rub off on Mandell judging by the opening track on "Put My Baby To Bed." Here Mandell catches your ear with the old-school arrangement complete with some nifty clarinet accents.
Of course, having Lowe's supporting cast working with her certainly doesn't hurt, as a good portion of the record is fuelled by the talented pianist/keyboardist Geraint Watkins and a delectable, swinging feel throughout. "Wedding Ring" is equally well-executed as it playfully ambles along as Mandell relays the tale about marriage and all the specifics it entails. But the greatest asset is Mandell not forcing the issue and sounding ridiculously relaxed on a girl-group-leaning gem like "Little Joy," which provides ample joy.
The highlights here are numerous. One real charmer is "The Man Who's Always Lost" with its mariachi-tinged tone. Mandell's gentle approach results in a delectable toe-tapper that glides along effortlessly before ending just when you'd want a smidgeon more. The lone minor drawback is "I Like You," which closes "Side One" (ah, brownie points for Side One/Side Two designations!). The ditty might be best left for the album closer as it comes off a bit too sugary.
With the low point comes the apex with "Anyone Like You." Whether it's Watkins' subtle work or the brushing of drummer Robert Trehern that could be mistaken for the hiss of a needle on vinyl, the effort is pure gold. And the way she works through "Something To Think About" makes Mandell sound as if she's a close cousin of Sharon Van Etten with her precious, pleasing approach. And all the while singing about saving the world and protesting injustices and broken promises.
Mandell's latest might not be for everyone, yet what she has done is something most would find strong and a breath of fresh air. Nick Lowe and Mandells's two "little rascals" (twins Rex and Della) should be proud of her!