Eleni Mandell

Those who love Eleni Mandell‘s white-hot, punky lounge stylings will recognize her recent full-jump foray into deep country music as anything but a cynical attempt to cash in. The country covers that have always been part of her shows should have been our clue, but with her most recent CD, Country For True Lovers, Mandell has made a sultry, slinky shift into country. The most important revelation isn’t how well she handles traditional tunes such as “Kingsport Town” and Merle Haggard’s classic “I’ve Got a Tender Heart,” but how well her own country tunes, like the quiet, desperately distant “Blue Ribbon Eyes,” fit within the genre. With spare, minimal arrangements and a whispery, husky delivery that echoes the cigarettes-and-neon of country’s ’50s “bad girls,” Mandell gives Neko Case, Kelly Hogan and even the Cowboy Junkies’ Margo Timmins a run for their money.

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