Leslie Mendelson

If You Can't Say Anything Nice

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If You Can't Say Anything Nice Review

by Marcy Donelson

For her fourth long-player, If You Can't Say Anything Nice, singer/songwriter Leslie Mendelson worked again with longtime co-writer Steve McEwan, who also produced alongside bassist/engineer Lorenzo Wolff. As the reunion may suggest, the album remains in Mendelson's wheelhouse, evoking classic '70s songwriter influences in the vein of Carole King and Carly Simon. (In the period between albums, she released a duet with Jackson Browne for the documentary film 5B.) However, the subject matter here is of its own time, with topics ranging from tragic prescription-drug addiction to media overexposure and anxiety in general, quite in tune with the day's economic and political climate. She begins with "Lay It All on Me," a dramatic, choral overture of sorts that was reportedly inspired by 1970's John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band. The song's emphatic piano-and-drums intro underscores lyrics compatible with the album's title, such as opening words "I don't want to show you out/Only want to let you in/I don't want to get you down/I just want to see you win." From there, If You Can't Say Anything Nice pivots between earnest acoustic-guitar folk ("Would You Give Up Your Gun"), lyrical piano balladry ("My Dark Peace"), and declarative blues-rock ("If You Can't Say Anything Nice"). The latter is among a few songs with more substantial, full-band arrangements including backing singers, such as on "All Come Together," an uplifting entry with a gospel bent. She gets into heavier topics on tracks like "Medication" and the spare, haunting "Flesh & Bone," but the album's sequencing and consistently hummable melodies make it all go down easy and seem even briefer than its 35 minutes. A strong addition to Mendelson's catalog with both timely and timeless qualities, If You Can't Say Anything Nice doesn't try to push boundaries but instead offers consistently tuneful, efficient songs with substance.

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