Reviewed by Harry Kaplan
Finally, an album that is the proper length. Strange Conversation clocks in at 38 minutes, the sweet spot. This is the blues having a three-way with jazz and country. All three partners are equal participants that work towards the greater good of the group. No, this isn’t Animal Farm. This is about the interrelationship of three pieces working perfectly in concert. Mandy is also full of surprises. Just when I think the album is going in one direction, it takes a sharp turn and changes course. Let’s add a little bit of Motown to the mix.
Mandy’s voice is definitely one of the sweetest and evocative that I have ever heard. In addition to being sweet and sultry, Mandy’s pipes are as strong as an oak tree. The notes are held for the longest tine and never as much as a flutter in her voice.
As blues is one of the most prominent genres on this album, it is only appropriate that the introductory song also be a blues number. The Fool (Track 9) has that “Smokestack Lightning” riff and wicked harmonica playing. This is the blues y’all, in case you weren’t sure. And make no mistake about it, Miss Barnett is in charge.
I never considered Mandy Barnett a blues artist, but I may have to rethink my position on that one. Put A Chain On It (Track 10) is pure, unadulterated blues. And Mandy is clearly the captain of the ship. Her vocals are the nerve center of this vessel that is cruising along at 35 knots. The smoking electric guitar parts turn the intensity up to 11.
What’s refreshing is Mandy’s ability to slow it down and get spacey on a whim. Dream To Real To Hold (Track 3) is a psychedelic vocal journey that takes the listener to the far reaches of the universe. This song lives up to the title, it’s so dreamy. The guitar parts take the lead in this tango and creates that airy ethereal sound. The voice and guitar meld together into a single entity.
One phrase that people don’t use much these days is “Neil Sedaka cover”. In fact, it is rare to hear the name Neil Sedaka at all. That was before Mandy covered My World Keeps Slipping Away (Track 8). The arrangement is absolutely stunning and is the perfect slow dancing song that you can groove to over and over. The Tejano sound provided by the accordion and organ is about as authentic as it gets.
After giving this one a few good listens, I can honestly say that this album will be in peoples memory banks for quite a while. Mandy’s voice grabs your attention and the music holds it firmly in place. This will definitely be mentioned with the best of 2018. Now that, you can bank on.