Eleni Mandell Snakebite

Both the PJ Harvey and the Tom Waits comparisons are fair, accurate and apt: Mandell nears the passionate moans and inhuman harpy shrieks of the former while evoking the trademark third-person storytelling skills of the latter. But Los Angeles’s most talented noir lounge singer with this album (her third) also seems to share a maritime fascination with PJ’s former paramour, Nick Cave. The sea is her repeated metaphor for the tides of life and longing in "Dreamboat” and "Pirate Song,” and its sprawling wide open space fits with her apparent need to crawl and claw her way out of that smoky cabaret. Her wails in songs like "Snakebite” create such a feeling of claustrophobia and a need to escape, reaching a powerfully hair-tugging, red-faced and raw intensity. This title track is a haunting, howling lamentation of the wounds that can be inflicted after the first dance steps of love turn into a stumble. Yet at other times, Mandell apparently just wants to prance lightly through the daisies with her honey, yodelling sweet and lilting like a schoolgirl (which she expresses bafflement over "blushing like” in "Alien Eye”). Overall, an emotional roller coaster that sticks with you long after the ride is done. (Zedtone)