Unsigned singer/songwriter Eleni Mandell has crafted a surprisingly large body of work, an achievement notable enough in itself without discussing the merits of her latest, Artificial Fire.
The album works best when Mandell plays it straight, whether it’s up-tempo fare (“Bigger Burn” or the Elvis Costello-channeling “Little Foot”) or languid ballads (“In the Doorway,” the soulful “Don’t Let It Happen”). Mandell is less successful when she affects a sultry chanteuse persona on atmospheric but curiously unmelodic songs (“God is Love”). For better or worse, she’s most at home on whimsical trifles (“Right Side”) or the pleasantly artless (“Personal”). Mandell ties it all together on “Tiny Waist.” Here, she creates atmosphere around a strong melody, not the other way around.