Audio Mixer: Sheldon Gomberg.
Photographer: Laura Heffington.
Eleni Mandell has been waiting her whole career to open an album with a song like "I'm Old Fashioned," in which the decidedly retro vocalist and songwriter warbles a litany of things she likes in spite of their perceived obsolescence, such as newspapers, telephones that plug into the wall, vinyl record albums, letters that require stamps, going to the bank, and percolators ("a little burnt, but it'll do"). While there was a sharp, smoky undercurrent to Mandell's early albums, on her tenth long-player, 2015's Dark Lights Up, Mandell sounds smart, sly, sweet, and sincere, imagining a world where gals still croon about Mr. Right (when he comes around), a really good kiss (when they happen), and a good strong cocktail (when A and B can't be relied upon). Despite her clear fondness for other decades, Mandell still seems like a realist who can see past her rose-colored glasses on Dark Lights Up, welcoming the prospect of aging while exposing a touch of reticence ("Old Lady"), using that perfect pair of shoes as a metaphor for all she wants out of life ("Magic Pair of Shoes"), and dealing with the realities of dating ("If You Wanna Get Kissed"). And "Butter Blonde and Chocolate Brown" is a beautifully observed portrait of two opposites attracting one another. Mandell's vocals are breezy on Dark Lights Up, but with enough resonance in her phrasing to give her stories and characters a welcome amount of detail, and her backing band (especially pianist Nate Walcott and bassist Ryan Feves) gets the late-in-the-evening ambience of these songs just right. On Dark Lights Up, Eleni Mandell manages to fuse the best qualities of a romantic and a realist, and she sets their tales to music that's engaging and never too kitschy for its own good; if Mandell has turned into a smoothie with the passage of time, this music confirms it's a style that suits her very well indeed. ~ Mark Deming