Eleni Mandell, "Artificial Fire" (Zedtone)
From the first few bars, which feature a punky guitar riff, it's clear Eleni Mandell's music is taking a new turn on "Artificial Fire." The addition of guitarist Jeremy Drake is the big change, bringing an edgy hook to nearly every song and allowing Mandell to expand her already impressive musical palette.
The Los Angeles songwriter channels Blondie on the back-to-back tunes "Bigger Burn" and "Little Foot." "Needle And Thread" also would have won applause at CBGB's, and D.J. Bonebrake's vibes make "Front Door" sound like something by his old band, X.
There's also plenty of the sultry singing that distinguished Mandell's 2007 release, "Miracle of Five."
She needs only a single chord to pull off the trancelike "God Is Love," and "Don't Let It Happen" is the sort of ballad that would make Dusty Springfield and Burt Bacharach proud. "Right Side," with horns and a great guitar solo by Drake, also sounds like a lost 1960s gem.
Elsewhere the album rocks, but even when it does, Mandell rarely raises her voice. With songs this good there's no need to shout.
CHECK IT OUT: Backed by Drake's shimmering guitar, Mandell wrings every ounce of romance from the ballad "In The Doorway," and her final three words provide a climax that would make any pulp novelist proud.