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COUNTRY FOR TRUE LOVERS
Anyone who was charmed by Neko Case, take notice: hereís an alluring singer with more quirks, more sex appeal, and a better set of pipes, who specializes in the same brand of late-night, film-noir roots music that Case explored on her last disc with mixed but promising results. Hailing from Los Angeles, Mandell is an offbeat pop type whose three previous albums were full of cabaret flavors and confessional lyrics, so the shift to a countrified aesthetic isnít such a big stretch. But it does require her to tone down the more exuberant aspects of her popper discs and just emote, which she does beautifully, turning in the best sultry whispers this side of Lucinda Williams. The arrangements are 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. "Another Lonely Heart" bears out her love for mid-í60s balladry. She loosens up on "Youíre All Bad (And Thatís Why Youíve Been Invited)," which is campy/vampy enough to live up to its title. But itís the cover tunes that really show her mettle, as she turns Jeannie Seelyís 1967 hit "Donít Touch Me" from a honky-tonk ballad into something considerably more obsessive. The standout track wasnít even written as a country song: "Itís Raining" is the New Orleans soul ballad that Allen Toussaint originally wrote for Irma Thomas. Instead of trying to out-sing Thomasís version, Mandell strips it down and puts the feelings upfront; the throwaway line "I guess Iíll just go crazy tonight" here suggests any number of intriguing possibilities.
BY BRETT MILANO