Possessed of kd lang's melodic skills and swooning delivery, with an ear on classic 50s and 60s pop, which was a hallmark of the best Rumer songs and just enough folk-noir to bring shadows to what sometimes sounds sunlit, little-known Mandell from Los Angeles here serves up an album of real depth.
It's a measure of Mandell's credibility that on her eighth studio album, this one-time protege of cult figure Chuck E Weiss (as in Rickie Lee Jones' Chuck E's in Love, a one-time street and boozing pal of Tom Waits) has assistance from the great pedal steel player Greg Leisz (the quivering and spacious Desert Song), saxophonist Steve Berlin (Blasters, Los Lobos) and Bright Eyes' arranger Nathaniel Walcott among others.
Quite a collision of talent (singer-songwriter Benji Hughes is Lee to her Nancy on Never Have to Fall in Love Again) but all remain in service of songs which exist at the interface of perfect pop, alt.country, cabaret jazz and string-enhanced folk rock.
Previously dismissed as an alt.country Norah Jones by some (slight evidence on the track with Hughes), Mandell steps out with sophistication but raw emotions, and a highly recommended repeat-play album.
Verdict: Bitter-sweet songs floating on lush melodies.
- TimeOut / elsewhere.co.nz