Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Mandy Barnett: “Strange Conversation” (2018) CD Review

Vocalist Mandy Barnett, known primarily as a country music singer, dips into some other realms on her new album, Strange Conversation. Here she proves her voice is perfect for blues, soul and pop, as well as country. She covers a wide variety of artists, from Mable John to Sonny And Cher. Joining her on this release are Doug Lancio on guitar and banjo, Tom West on keys, Rudy Copeland on organ, Viktor Krauss on bass, and Marco Giovino on drums and vibraphone. There are also guest musicians and vocalists (including John Hiatt) on certain tracks.

She opens the album with “More Lovin’,”  a cool, sweet bluesy love song that was written by Andre Williams, Gino Parks and William Stevenson, and originally recorded by Mabel John. Arnold McCuller joins Mandy Barnett on vocals for this track. The vocals are so smooth, sliding right in and making themselves at home.  And hey, we all need some “hip-shaking, earth-quaking loving.” That’s followed by a cover of The Tams’ “It’s All Right (You’re Just In Love),” and Mandy’s version has that delicious classic sound, which is wonderful, taking us back to the early 1960s. Here she is joined on vocals by Ann McCrary, Regina McCrary and Brandon Young. “Every time I see someone/They just stop and stare/I guess they think I’m crazy/But I don’t really care/I don’t know where I’m going now/Or where in the world I’ve been.” Perhaps it’s best we don’t reveal the real source of the troubles, and instead say, “It’s all right, you’re just in love.” Sounds plausible.

Mandy then moves up a few decades to give us an excellent rendition of Greg Garing’s “Dream Too Real To Hold.” Here she delivers a fantastic, gorgeous vocal performance over a simple country rhythm, and the results are beautiful and moving, one of my favorite tracks. “The feeling that’s come over me, it scares me half to death/I face my dream although I am awake/And though I’m sure to wake and find a broken heart/I know this is a chance that I must take.” That’s followed by “Strange Conversation,” the album’s title track, written and originally recorded by Ted Hawkins (it was the lead track on his 1994 release, The Next Hundred Years). This is a smooth, cool song with a lot of soul, and this rendition features a horn section, helping to make it a rather lively take. Neal Pawley is on trombone, and John Isley is on saxophone.

Sometimes I forget just how good Sonny And Cher were, and how many seriously good songs Sonny Bono wrote. If you too need some reminding, you’ll get it on this disc from Mandy Barnett. John Hiatt joins Mandy for a fantastic cover of Sonny And Cher’s “A Cowboy’s Work Is Never Done.” I love this one right from the moment it begins, with that great mean vibe taking you to another time, another world. This is one you can sink your teeth into, one that will sustain you as you’re out on this strange range. The horn section returns, and Frank Swart plays guitar, and John Deaderick plays tack piano on this track. Sam Phillips’ “All Night” also has a cool, dark edge and yet an undeniable beauty. This is another of the disc’s best tracks. I love this kind of music, and Mandy Barnett’s vocal performance is fantastic and playful, the way she hangs on certain words. Doug Lancio plays banjo on this track, and Kylie Harris is on keys.

Mandy Barnett then covers Neil Sedaka’s “My World Keeps Slipping Away,” her version mellower and prettier than the original. She’s taken a good song and made it much better, and this track features more wonderful and moving vocal work. “The world we knew is almost gone/But I keep holding on.” There is also some nice work on percussion. Billy Masters is on baritone guitar, and Sonny Barbato is on accordion. The album concludes with another excellent track, a rendition of Andre Williams’ “Put A Chain On It,” with that guitar immediately announcing this as some serious blues. The track turns out to be a whole lot of fun too. Ann McCrary and Regina McCrary provide the backing vocals, and Dennis Brennan is on harmonica. Peter Parcek plays guitar on this track. Strange Conversation is an excellent album from beginning to end.

CD Track List
  1. More Lovin’
  2. It’s All Right (You’re Just In Love)
  3. Dream Too Real To Hold
  4. Strange Conversation
  5. A Cowboy’s Work Is Never Done
  6. Puttin’ On The Dog
  7. All Night
  8. My World Keeps Slipping Away
  9. The Fool
  10. Put A Chain On It
Strange Conversation was released on September 21, 2018.

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