Black Music Matters Festival

Eleni Mandell

Country for True Lovers – 2003 (Zedtone)

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

CDs by Eleni Mandell

With hints of Beth Orton, a bit of Aimee Mann and maybe Gillian Welch, Eleni Mandell serves up a generally laid back, but consistent fourth album. Mandell tends to take a go slow, chanteuse approach la Orton - this is no rushed affair - but with a spare country sound, often underpinned by acoustic guitar. There's a good amount of pedal steel and twang throughout the 14 songs.

Just when monotony threatens, Mandell smartly changes the pace. Her cover of Merle Haggard's "I've Got a Tender Heart" clearly shows that Mandell can belt it out with sincerity when she sings about being "rough and ready." Ditto for "Tell Me Twice" with backing vocals from Tony Gilkyson, who also produced, and "You're All Bad (And That's Why You've Been Invited)." At times, Mandell is more jazzy than country. "It's Raining"falls within that framework, but maintains a country feel thanks to pedal steel. Mandell's voice is well suited to both the uptempo and slower pace, although a few times she sounds like she hit a sour note.

A few Left Coast players like drummer Don Heffington and guitarist Gilkyson keep the music moving in the right direction. Mandell's previous three albums apparently were more akin to PJ Harvey than country and did not give her a very high profile. This ought to.