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Country for True Lovers
Eleni Mandell

On her fourth album, Los Angeles singer-songwriter Eleni Mandell takes a detour from her stylish neo-lounge sound ("fun noir" is how MOJO described it) and makes an excursion into country music. For years, she has included country songs in her performances, and now she's put those show-stoppers on disc. Her voice has the purity and spunk of Patsy Cline and her songs have the melodic catchiness and emotional directness of the best country songs. Country for True Lovers features eight of Eleni's original songs, as well as four gems gleaned from the repertoires of Merle Haggard, Irma Thomas, Tammy Wynette and Bob Dylan.

Produced by the ace Los Angeles guitarist Tony Gilkyson (formerly of X), the gorgeously textured recording features the cream of Los Angeles country musicians, including Greg Leisz, Kip Boardman, Dave Pearlman, Joshua Grange, Don Heffington and Paul Marshall. This is an album that will appeal to all audiences, from Eleni's alt.rock fanbase to the No Depression crowd, from fans of the O Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack to mainstream country fans and most importantly to anyone who appreciates great singing and honest songs.

"Anyone who was charmed by Neko Case, take notice: Here's a singer with more quirks, more sex appeal and a better set of pipes, making exactly the late-night, film-noir country album that Case's last disc tried to be. From Los Angeles, Mandell is an offbeat pop type whose three previous albums were full of cabaret flavors and confessional lyrics; so her shift to country music isn't that big a stretch. But it does mean that she has to tone down the exuberance of her pop discs and just emote-- which she does beautifully, turning in the best sultry whispers this side of Lucinda Williams. The
arrangements are all understated, with plenty of brushed drums and tremolo guitars (the latter played by the underrated X member Tony Gilkyson, who also produces). Always good with melody, she turns in a number of authentic-sounding original tunes, with "Another Lonely Heart" bearing out her love for mid-'60s balladry. She loosens up on "You're All Bad (And That's Why You've Been Invited)", which is campy/vampy enough to live up to its title. But it's the cover tunes that really show her mettle, as she turns Jeannie Seely's 1967 hit "Don't Touch Me" from a honky-tonk ballad into something considerably more obsessive. The standout track wasn't even
written as a country song: "It's Raining" is the New Orleans soul ballad that Allen Toussaint originally wrote for Irma Thomas. Instead of trying to outsing Thomas' version, Mandell strips it down and puts the feelings upfront; the throwaway line "I guess I'll just go crazy tonight" here suggests any number of possibilities."
-- Brett Milano, Boston Phoenix


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