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Mandell counts for a lot

Club Passim, Cambridge, Mass., August 3, 2015

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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Eleni Mandell doesn't hit you over the head - for the most part - with her songs. The LA-based singer/songwriter is on the low-key side when it comes to the music as well as her vocal delivery.

But her seemingly laidback style creeps up on you, making you want to listen.

And in a nearly 75-minute mainly solo effort with an acoustic guitar guided by her voice, Mandell delved into matters of the heart. In introducing "Magic Summertime," Mandell said to laughter, "if all of my relationships ended after the first few kisses, they would have all been great."

But that's apparently not how life has turned out for Mandell at 47. She related how she's been touring with her two kids for five weeks with her ex-boyfriend serving as chaperone. They broke up, interestingly enough, because he didn't want to have kids, Mandell said.

The easy going "Magic Summertime" was indicative of that where she returned to the chorus often enough amidst steady guitar picking to insinuate herself into the listener's head in a song about the beauty of a kiss.

Mandell offered a portion of her brand new CD, "Dark Lights Up," including the poppy "Cold Snap," which Mandell said was criticized in a New York Times review that was only kind of positive about the album. Mandell apparently doesn't or shouldn't do her own PR. No matter because with opening act Courtney Marie Andrews and her keyboardist Dillon Warnek back on stage, "Cold Snap" sounded like something Ingrid Michaelson might have sung.

Mandell delved back into her 2004 country disc, "Country for True Lovers" with the only true country song of her set, "Don't Touch Me." The slow, but resigned delivery was on target.

And so was most of the set, except for a requested song, "Wind in His Eyes," where she went too low, she reduced the song to a whisper.

Mandell has never enjoyed a hit or any significant commercial success. What she does have is a slew of songs worth listening to. And that counts for quite a lot.

Andrews, who is based in Seattle, was a good opening act with a bigger voice that also made you want to listen. She did not cut a wide musical swath and could develop a more exciting stage presence, but, in a different way than Mandell, Andrews' voice carried her.