Record Review - 2 July 15 2004

She's a little bit country, a little bit lounge, and even a little bit rock 'n roll; but on her fifth album, Eleni Mandell is all chanteuse. Connecting her burnished bronze voice with torch songs that don't bother slotting into blues, jazz, country or pop (but manage to be all of the above) she's difficult to categorize. Regardless, the singer has crafted a stunning album that's impervious to genres, fads or fashion.

Assisted enormously by a band, led by producer/multi-instrumentalist Joshua Grange, that nimbly follows her lead, no two songs sound alike. Switching from the Dan Hicks-styled swing-folk of "County Line" to the closing time Patsy Cline lament with smarmy, dime-store organ accompaniment of "I've Been Fooled" to the stripped-down Velvet Underground garage of "Easy on Your Way Out," the group shifts gears with remarkable ease.

But the disc succeeds due to Mandell's lusty yet laid-back vocals and lascivious gleam. "I can't wait to get my salty lips on your fingertips," she purrs like Catwoman luring her victim on "Dangerous." It's that sexy, smirking charm — one part cream puff, two parts strychnine — that weaves these disparate threads together with such cool composure.

Whether playing the part of the femme fatale or the jilted girlfriend, Eleni Mandell's hypnotic vocals, sensual confidence and eclectic approach makes Afternoon a siren call to all listeners.

Eleni Mandell plays the Earl Sat., July 17. 9:30. $7.