For someone who has been compared to Tom Waits as much as Eleni Mandell has, I’m surprised I’d never heard of her before now. Of course, her style has somewhat mellowed over the years, so that raw bohemian delivery has been smoothed out with a more jazz oriented cool, but her lyrics still evoke poetic images of everyday life. Miracle of Five is Mandell’s latest effort, and it’s a breath of fresh air in a landscape filled with smog, grime and musical malfeasance. Think Madeleine Peyroux with a switchblade in her jeans pocket or Aimee Mann in a smoky piano bar and you’ll get an idea of what Mandell is about—a delicate jazz vocal, stripped down and with a hint of danger.
The album starts out innocently enough, with our heroine aching for companionship in “Moonglow, Lamp Low,” likening true love to something as simple as sugar in her coffee. The comparison, I can only guess, is meant to be ironic, as true love isn’t near that accessible. “My Twin” certainly evokes the Waits comparisons, especially due to the storytelling style, low tones and mood-evincing horns. “Salt Truck” is probably the true cornerstone of the album, taking everyday things and relating them to philosophies of life. Mandell wishes for both drivable roads and a lover on which she can depend. She makes these kinds of juxtapositions throughout the record, likening the practical and routine with the impractical and fantasy. It’s truly stunning how powerful these comparisons are.
“The Make-Out King” has Eleni Mandell worrying about being seen with the character of the song’s title, sure to break her heart and ruin her reputation, but her hopes get the best of her as she ends each chorus with “The Make-Out King is starting to care.” The title track is another stunner, likening hands to the `miracle of five,’ and then using other numbers to represent other various acts and emotions, ending with the miracle of two, the final relationship. There’s a slight similarity to the slow loping sweetness of “Blue Bayou” in this track, and Mandell handles the vocals beautifully. Much of that can probably be attributed to the fact that some of the songs were recorded with just Mandell and her guitar, with the band added later. And what a band it is! As just an example, there are guest appearances from Nels Cline (Wilco) and DJ Bonebrake (X), the latter being in a band that Mandell idolized growing up.
Eleni Mandell lays out her emotions for everyone to see on Miracle of Five, never self-conscious, only honest to the precipice of `almost too painful.’ This album captures the thoughts that go through your head when you’re alone and you wish you had someone to talk to, to kiss, and to hold you late at night. The difference is, Mandell says it in such a brilliant and poetic way, and we don’t wonder why we had never thought of it before. Mandell knows that love is elusive and that most of us are lonely, it’s just that she express those feelings in a manner truly her own. A friend once told me that instead of being lonely, I had to `make a friend of loneliness.’ It was one of the wisest things I had ever heard, if slightly confusing, but I have a feeling Mandell has heard something similar, not only making a friend of her loneliness, but then turning that feeling into something altogether magnificent.
Madeleine Peyroux- Careless Love
P.J. Harvey- To Bring You My Love
Patsy Cline- The Patsy Cline Story