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Eleni Mandell
Miracle Of Five
Zedtone Records

Life is a miracle. Just ask Eleni Mandell.

Backed by some of today's best studio musicians and replete with Mandell's musings of a "life less ordinary," Miracle Of Five is the L.A. songstress's sixth full-length album to date. And it shows promise of being one of the year's best.

"Moonglow, Lamp Low" starts the album off with a whisper. Lush acoustic strums and the mellow vibrations of an upright bass ease this jazzy number forward. With Mandell's honey-sweet vocals and lyrics akin to a bedtime story, she sings, "Moonbeam, sleeping/All I need is a sweet dream/and true love, just like sugar, in my coffee." The chorus, with its lullaby poetics and melodies that could pluck even the rustiest heartstrings back in tune, is one of the loveliest moments on the album. "The sky says goodbye with the wink of an eye," she sings. To the west, the blue air yawns above windows that "are shining as the sun goes down fighting," and "the houses on the hill are getting undressed." It's the kind of song Jimmy Durante would have sung perfectly.

Though with fuller instrumentation, the track "Somebody Else" moves with a similar surreal vibe. Gentle guitars and brushed-snares beautifully drape lyrical images that somehow make ordinary things seem dreamlike. As the opening lines show, "There are wings in his eyes/Beautiful butterflies/Silvery greens like the moss on the trees." As in "Moonbeam," "Somebody else" articulates the tension between the carefree love of daydreams and the difficult love of ordinary days. The chorus is especially vivid in doing this, Mandell singing, "He's kind and he's careful, I know that I'll see him sometime/He's sweet and he's gentle, opens my door and he closes mine." Violin melodies follow the chorus. These melodies, like the lyrics, sound both real and ethereal at once. As a result, the words and musical orchestrations compliment each other wonderfully. This very technique is what Eleni Mandell and her band does best, giving the songs a holistic quality.

Most of Miracle Of Five has this interplay of "the dreamt" and "the lived." But its best track is a stark, no-nonsense tune that spins its tires along dreamless, snow covered roads. On "Salt Truck," Mandell somehow manages to take the most mundane piece of machinery since the lawnmower and turn it into an icon. As folksy guitars drive the song, Mandell sings, "Salt truck, salt truck clear my path/all my dreams have frozen fast/I want roads that I can drive on/I want a love I can rely on." A bounty of themes and interpretations can be drawn from these straightforward lyrics. Perhaps they illustrate humanity's powerlessness in the face of nature, as the narrator slides on the "mean black ice." Maybe the song personifies modern society's dependence on technology for control and stability. Hell, one could even draw some clever parallels between the Mighty "Salt Truck" and the Divine. It's even possible that the narrator's just in a bad mood and wishes the town's plowman would do his damn job. There's no finality of interpretations, and that's what makes this song remarkable.

There is a sort of "cuteness," in much of Mandell's songs. Still, tracks like "My Twin" show Eleni Mandell is no lightweight. This dark tale has the psychological twists and brooding cynicism of a Chris Nolen flick or a Nick Cave narrative. Pondering a train derailment where "201 victims were killed," the narrator sits safely at home wondering, "Was my twin among the dead?/Was my twin expected to live?" As trumpets and organs haunt the air, the narrator soon reveals that she's not waiting for an actual twin sibling. Rather, she is mourning a future lover she's never met. A counterpart to complement her "slow, dull existence," who may have died before fate could bring them together. "My Twin" may be a bit melodramatic; regardless, it stares straight ahead into fears shared by all and uttered by few.

Fortunately, Miracle Of Five has enough comic relief to balance out its occasional gloom. On the peculiar and playful track "Girls," Mandell packs a sarcastic punch as she pokes fun at an ex-boyfriend who just won't grow up. With biting humor she asks, "Do you still dream about girls from your street?/Do you still dream about girls from high school?/Do you still dream about girls, girls, girls?" The track "Make-Out King" follows in a similar vein. Here Mandell sings about some insecure fellow who's always "looking for love to keep him from dying." Who "drinks like nobody knows where he's going," dances like "he might tip over," but still manages to make out with every girl on the block.

From its lovelorn lullabies to its darkest dreams, Miracle Of Five is one of those rare albums where every single song is a treat. All twelve tracks have enough catchy jazz hooks to keep it enjoyable and plenty of insights to keep listeners thinking. But most impressive is Eleni Mandell's ability to gaze at the coldest, most ordinary places and still unearth pockets of enchantment, even miracles. Now that is the mark of a promising songwriter.

-Justin Stover

Track Listing:
1. Moonglow, Lamp Low
2. Girls
3. My Twin
4. Salt Truch
5. Wings In His Eyes
6. Make-Out King
7. Miracle Of Five
8. Perfect Stranger
9. Dear Friend
10. Somebody Else
11. Beautiful
12. Miss Me

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