Singing and writing in a style that fuses vintage barroom cool with a here-and-now intelligence and faintly ironic wit, Los Angeles hipster Eleni Mandell initiated her recording career with arty-cool albums packed with her smoky, noir-ish sketches.
Mandell, who was a huge fan of L.A. punkers X and beatnik revivalist Tom Waits in her teens, was raised in the Sherman Oaks region of the San Fernando Valley, and began performing out during her years as a student at Berkeley. Soon after, she fell under the mentorship of Chuck E. Weiss, the Tom Waits associate who became the subject of Rickie Lee Jones' "Chuck E's in Love." In 1998 she self-financed her first release, Wishbone. The album spurred the Waits comparisons in its nicotine-infused downtown mood, as well as comparisons to PJ Harvey in Mandell's dramatic vocals. Her next two albums, Thrill and Snakebite, continued in the mode of torchy cool, but 2003's Country for True Lovers saw a shift in Mandell's approach as she took on a handful of classic country tunes. Inspired by such traditional country classics as Tammy Wynette's "Your Good Girl's Gonna Go Bad," Mandell enlisted producer and former X guitarist Tony Gilkyson, whom she had met through Weiss. The effort, recorded in a mere two weeks with a host of L.A.'s top country-rock sessioneers (including former Lone Justice drummer Don Heffington), featured a mix of originals and covers by artists such as Merle Haggard and Hank Cochran. The sleepy and sensuous Afternoon arrived in 2004, followed by Miracle of Five in 2007 and Artificial Fire in 2009. The following year, Mandell joined with singers Alex Lilly, Inara George, and Becky Stark to form the Living Sisters, described by some as an alternative folk supergroup. The Living Sisters released their debut album, Love to Live, in 2010, after which Mandell got back to solo business with her eighth LP; 2012's I Can See the Future was also her first album for Yep Roc Records. A second Living Sisters album, Run for Cover, appeared in 2013, and the following year Mandell released Let's Fly a Kite, which was produced by Nick Lowe's longtime collaborator Neil Brockbank and featured Lowe's band backing her. The year 2015 saw the release of Dark Lights Up, a breezy set of tunes Mandell produced in tandem with engineer and mixer Sheldon Gomberg. ~ Erik Hage, Rovi