‘I Can See the Future’
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Suzanne Vega broke free from pop music conventions by writing songs that were introspective yet literary.
While many divas of the day were copying Madonna’s “make ’em dance, not think” philosophy, Vega’s music, with its urban characters and places, such as Luka and Tom’s Diner, was more in tune with the music of Joni Mitchell.
Today, Eleni Mandell is continuing Vega’s and Mitchell’s tradition of being a singer-songwriter who is able to delve into serious subjects in a beautiful and melodic manner.
Mandell’s latest album is “I Can See the Future,” released last week on the Los Angeles-based musician’s newest label, Yep Roc Records. With a wealth of stellar backing musicians, “I Can See the Future” is Mandell’s most complex and challenging album to date, much of it inspired by the songwriter’s relationships with men and the fact that she had twins 21 months ago.
Many music lovers are familiar with Mandell’s voice and songwriting from her work as one third of the trio, The Living Sisters. She began that project in 2006 in Los Angeles with singers Inara George and Becky Stark, eventually releasing the album, “Love to Live,” in 2010.
“My solo albums are really different from my work with The Living Sisters,” Mandell said in a phone interview from the Dinosaur Museum in Tucumcari, N.M. “The Living Sisters is a side project that is more lighthearted with two- and three-part vocal harmonies. My stuff tends to be a lot darker.”
Indeed, “I Can See the Future” is filled with slower than average songs, lush arrangements and Mandell’s voice.
“Magic Summertime” is a slow, wistful love song with a gorgeous string arrangement, while “The Future” features a simply plucked guitar backed by ethereal synthesizers, giving it a “Twin Peaks” feel.
The playful shuffle of “So Easy” is a relaxing counterpoint to some of the sadder, slower material, but all of it is powerful, beautiful and unique.
“I Can See the Future,” produced by Mandell and Joe Chicarelli, is her eighth studio album.
The album’s title comes from a chance visit to a tarot card reader more than a decade ago.
“She asked, ‘Are you a musician or a poet?’” Mandell recalled. “And she described my music in this incredible way that made a lot of sense to me.” Within a year, critics were doing much the same thing, lauding kudos on Mandell’s 1999 debut, “Wishbone.” The card reader also told the singer she’d marry at age 32. “Then I asked about having kids … and she had a weird response.”
Fast forward to 2010. Mandell’s life was in tumult. Her seventh album, “Artificial Fire,” had been released the year before as the nation was in the throes of a deep recession. Not only was she still unmarried, but several long-term relationships — both romantic and professional — had recently soured. Starting a family without a dad at hand seemed a daunting prospect.
“The fairy tale I’d thought I was going to have didn’t happen, so I had to make something happen for myself,” she admitted.
After much soul searching, she forged ahead on her own and engaged the services of an anonymous sperm donor. “I can tell you that he’s an astrophysicist and likes classic rock.”
It was during these emotionally charged months that “I Can See the Future” was composed.
Although Mandell characterizes this period as one of “frustration, disappointment and intense sorrow,” the word that best captures the mood of her eighth full-length is “bittersweet.”
“I write all of my songs on guitar,” Mandell said. “We recorded it in a studio in Burbank, Calif. One of the musicians who played on the album, Benji Hughes, will be joining me when I play in Asheville on my new tour.
Mandell’s solo tour started in Philadelphia this week, and she will be performing at the Grey Eagle in Asheville on Tuesday, July 24.