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Eleni Mandell/Reckless Kelly

Oh, what a musical weekend. Friday night was Eleni Mandell at Gunther Murphy's, a small club set-up similar Schuba's or the late, lamented Lounge Ax (for those who have seen High Fidelity, the club where Lisa Bonet sang Peter Frampton).
Mandell might be best described as a neo-trad country chanteuse in the vein of Neko Case, or perhaps as in a space between Tom Waits and Lucinda Williams. Some might be reminded of the late Kristy MacColl. Her set was drawn largely from her latest three releases, though obviously favoring her latest, Afternoon. If my description of her style is confusing, you can hear four tracks from Afternoon at elenimandell.com
If you sample those tracks, you won't be shocked to read that this was the sort of show where Christmas lights were strung for atmosphere. Nevertheless, I was pleasantly surprised by the degree to which they swung on the opener, "Can't You See That I'm Soulful," rocked on "Say Goodbye" and "Easy On Your Way Out," grooved on "Just A Dream" and cooked on "County Line" and "I've Got A Tender Heart" (from 2003's Country For True Lovers). The band clearly has had the time to sink into the music since recording it. Mandell, decked out in a vintage June Cleaver-esque ensemble, exudes a playful confidence on stage, at times biting into the lyrics like Chryssie Hynde, at other times caressing them like a kitten. And she clearly commands her band, displaying a Dylan-esque or Pratt-like disregard for her set list.
My one nitpick would be that they skipped a couple from True Lovers that I would have liked to have heard: "You're All Bad (And That's Why You've Been Invited)," and "Iowa City" (which, incredibly, is held up as a paragon of virtue compared to Chicago, which may be why she skipped it). But all in all, a really enchanting performance.
I spent a chunk of Saturday in beautiful Berwyn (sarcasm), at Fitzgerald's, which annually stages a four-day American Music Festival over the July 4th weekend. I shouldn't need to tell you that acts like Dave Alvin and the Waco Bros. are still good, so I'll mention Reckless Kelly. I believe they're from Austin, so I imagine Jon Hahn has an opinion, but here's Joe Ely's recommendation: "Reckless Kelly is my kind of band; hell-raising, hard playing, kick-ass songwriting, feet firmly in the present but with an amazing knowledge of where it has all come from. What else is there?" I would say that's a pretty fair summation of their originals, which they supplemented with a number of covers, including Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues" and Richard Thompson's "1952 Vincent Black Lightning." They also did a monster version of ex-True Believer John Dee Graham's "Laredo," for which they brought out Graham (who had played immediately before this set). But the kicker for all you Blockheads would have to be the encore, a marathon workout of "So Lonely," which included a fair chunk of "Next To You" to boot! Scratch those alt.country-types and you find skinny ties and checkerboard Vans...
Of course, all of this has completely disrupted my internal clock, but was well worth it.


Added:  Monday, July 05, 2004
Reviewer:  KB
Score:
hits: 4758
Language: eng

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