Music Reviews: May / June 2007


| May / June 2007


The Unsung Singer
Eleni Mandell: Miracle of Five

(Zedtone)

"You're my dear friend, where are you now? Aren't you worried how I am?" sings Eleni Mandell on one of the best tracks of her new album, Miracle of Five. You might read the line as a career statement. After all, in spite of six years and six albums of rave reviews, accolades from fellow musicians, and an all-star L.A. backup band (picked from the likes of X, Wilco, and Tom Waits), this singer-songwriter remains a secret indie jewel.

It would, nonetheless, be a misreading. For while Mandell shuffles through American musical genres languidly, she is no ironist. When she sings a country-western song or a jazz number, there's no wink. This lack of armor makes her sound as vulnerable as the last woman on earth.

Miracle of Five builds an utterly captivating, California world of simmering romance, hot nights, and desert winds. The album's primary instrument is Mandell's voice, which is sultry but catches sometimes in a way that sounds like a little kid playing at sultry. This album deserves a wide audience. Then again, when I hear Mandell's hushed voice whispering into my earbuds, I hope she stays my own little secret.
-- Joseph Hart


The Nightwatchman: One Man Revolution

(Epic)

Woody Guthrie is dead, Bob Dylan rejected the "protest music" tag decades ago, and Billy Bragg's songwriting has gotten soft around the edges. So who's left to play the union rallies and street protests? Tom Morello, a.k.a. the Nightwatchman, that's who. The innovative axman for Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave, it turns out, has a soft spot for "heavy acoustic" music, and his combination of socialist politics and string-abusing strums is a potent mix. Whether he's painting an apocalyptic portrait of the not-too-distant future ("California's Dark"), packing a powder keg for battle ("One Man Revolution"), or belting out picket-line anthems ("Union Song"), Morello seizes on the "anger is an energy" ethos of punk rock and lands blow after thudding blow for the little guy.
-- Keith Goetzman