Sunday, March 15, 2009
Making a Name for Herself
She's hip, let's face it--and doggone it, she delivers on the goods! Love the Elvis Jailhouse Rock look!
2007's release was poetic. A quiet acoustic effort that yielded center stage to the lyrics. I love the opening cut "Moonglow, Lamp Low". Not sure why, but Johnny Mercer comes to mind as I listen.
Moonglow, lamp low
All I need is a rainbow
And true love just like sugar in my coffee
Many cuts from this CD are viewable on Youtube. There's "Girls" , a lyrical template that Eleni mines regularly (thematic concept: I'm just one of many. You like me, but I can't hold your attention for long.) Also "My Twin", a fascinating song in which Eleni connects with a victim of a train derailment.
Eleni Mandell rocks on her newest, most accessible album of all. It stands out in striking contrast to the two earlier releases that I own. Gripping and muscular melodies are on full display, and seductive guitar riffs abound.
Last week I saw Eleni Mandell in concert at a tiny club in Cambridge. She was there promoting her dynamic new release, Artificial Fire. My wife Lisa and I had gone primed on this CD as well as a previous release, Afternoon (2004).
What must Mandell have been thinking as she took the stage at 10:15 on a Sunday night to entertain maybe 50 people? I know that I was thinking about how tough the music business is today. I mean, she'd travelled all the way from her home in Los Angeles with her three bandmates to perform. She had worked hard to promote Artificial Fire: she'd been interviewed on NPR's "Morning Edition" and featured on its daily "Song of the Day", which is transmitted via email. I'd also heard her on "Studio 360", a music/cultural program. I noticed that Paste Magazine had given her new CD a full page smash review.
If you're hitting NPR you're taking care of the aging straining-to-remain hipster like me. Get plaudits in Paste Magazine and the true musical cognescenti are covered. Did I see them in attendance? Well, standing behind me (no seats in this club!) was a gray-haired ponytailed guy in a flannel shirt who I'd noticed at other concerts I've attended. So that makes two! A foot in front of the slightly upraised stage was another bespectacled guy who never left that location the entire show. Beer in hand, he swayed ever so slightly to the pulsing rhythms washing over him. "What is it with all these guys?" Lisa asked. (Take a look at Eleni. She's attractive. Now listen to her lyrics. She's brainy. Consider us gone.) Also a foot in front of Eleni was a woman who, in contrast to the guys, gyrated wildly and whooped the entire show. (Eleni gazed over her head the entire show.) The audience was rounded out by collegiates and postgraduates.
Eleni announced that she'd be playing most of Artificial Fire, and she launched into the title track early in the set. If your ears are as trained as mine are from years of listening, you start making associations to other artists immediately upon reception. "Kinda like Chrissy Hynde," I thought, "and the energy created here reminds me of early Elvis Costello." When later Eleni thank Rhode Island's Erin McKeown for lending her an amplifier I thought, "Oh goodness. Those two sound strikingly alike. It's no wonder!"
Lisa and I enjoyed the show immensely thanks to doing our homework. Eleni had a pleasing stage presence. She referred to her disastrous last appearance in Cambridge on a night where apparently the Red Sox had clinched a pennant. (She performed in front of the window of the Middle East, a restaurant around the corner. I can imagine the disruptions!) Although I could see that she was slightly unsettled by the modest turnout, she was genuinely warm, telling the crowd that she was enjoying herself and feeling their love. Eleni had a commanding and confident air that greatly enhanced her performance.
After the show I asked the couple who came with us—a musician friend and his girlfriend—what they thought of Eleni and he shrugged. "Yeah, it was OK," he said, "Lots of Surfer Rock guitar with some folkie-flavored stuff mixed in. Her guitar players seemed to like to play loud for the sake of playing loud." (I agreed with the former point but, since I don't play, didn't really appreciate the latter.) "And what was it with that encore?" he asked. (Eleni had ended with an acoustic number called "Salt Truck" from Miracle of Five. Being a devoted folkie and lyrical afficiando, I had no problem with it.)
I asked them to indulge me as I awaited my turn to get Eleni's autograph. "Sure," my friend said, "do your thing." Yes, my fan thing. My "Oh my gawd you're wonderful Eleni thing." I composed my remark before asking Eleni for the autograph. "If I could have made two requests," I told her, "I would have asked for two songs: 'God Is Love' (from Artificial Fire--she was pleased) and 'Afternoon' (from her 2004 release, which prompted her to say, "Yeah, you write so many songs that you start forgetting some of them.") I backed away—it is decidedly uncool to fawn—and we made our way back to our cars.
I hope you'll support Eleni Mandell. Get seduced by Artifical Fire. Ask your local rock club to book her. I hope that word-of-mouth builds for her and that she'll be at a larger venue the next time that she's in Boston.