Eleni Mandell Afternoon

Oh Eleni, when did it all go so wrong? This is a rather tepid outing for the once magnificent Mandell, and it's hard to understand just what it is that pushed her toward blandness. On earlier albums she perfected the art of traipsing through genres and making them her own, wrapping up bluesy ballads and torch songs in a larger-than-life dangerous persona. After defining herself so boldly early on, this new direction is hard to understand. It follows an insubstantial country album and a lukewarm foray into jazz, and was supposed to be a return to form — except that she went and got all goody-two-shoes on us. Afternoon suffers from indecision and from Mandell's reluctance to recognise that she shines brightest when not reigned in. In the moments where she embraces the darkness again, her detached manner is actually rather prim. There are times when her playfulness resurfaces: the sweet and dreamy "American Boy" is sung with tawdry ease, as if she's reclining in a clingy robe with a cigarette, and "Say Goodbye" is swaggering and brash. But too often she sings without true conviction. It's kept a little too clean, and many of us will miss the devious Eleni we once knew. A pleasant enough diversion for the Diana Krall set, but if you really want to find out what she's capable of, look for the first three albums. (Zedtone)