Eleni Mandell

Artificial Fire

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One word that is seldom, if ever, used in connection with Eleni Mandell is "belter." The Los Angeles-based singer/songwriter has generally favored a subtle, understated, hushed vocal style; Mandell's vocals are a whisper, not a shout or a scream. But Mandell's subtlety doesn't mean that her performances and songs are lightweight or lack substance; emotionally, Artificial Fire has a lot going on. This 2009 release is a fine addition to her catalog, although it isn't an album that goes for immediacy. Mandell, for the most part, is so restrained in her approach that one who isn't familiar with her work could allow Artificial Fire to quietly fade into the background if the volume isn't turned up; again, she isn't going to beat listeners over the head in order to get their attention. But relegating Artificial Fire to mere background music does the listener a huge disservice, and those who are paying close attention will realize just how substantial tracks like "Needle and Thread," "Little Foot," "Tiny Waste," and "In the Doorway" are. A singer doesn't have to belt in order to be expressive -- Chet Baker, June Christy, Helen Merrill, and other members of jazz' Cool School made that abundantly clear back in the 1950s -- and Mandell is definitely expressive whether she is combining alternative pop/rock with jazz, cabaret, or folk. Of course, those who sang the praises of Mandell's previous albums never doubted for a minute that she was an artist of substance and depth. But if one needs a reminder, the rewarding Artificial Fire does the trick nicely.

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