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Eleni Mandell brings her 'Artificial Fire' to the Echo

February 18, 2009 |  4:18 pm

There comes a time in everyone's life where they must take their personal mantra and throw it out the window. In the case of Eleni Mandell, her mantra had something to do with a scruff-voiced man fond of porkpie hats.

For her last six albums, Mandell has operated with the WWTWD? policy, as in What Would Tom Waits Do? But for her album out this week, "Artificial Fire," she had to take Waits and banish him from the studio -- metaphorically, of course.

"Tom Waits is the biggest influence on me," Mandell said in a recent stroll-interview we had at the Pasadena Community College flea market. "But I finally had to stop trying to emulate my heroes." It was an attempt to turn away from what Mandell called the "weepy, dark songs" to something that's "still dark, but danceable and fun."

Enter the title track, caught in shadowy play in the video above. Mandell, with the gently cutthroat players in her band, has concocted a sneaky brew based on the moment when a lover realizes she's been led to a treasure that's not true love but only artificial fire. Lovers and their endless follies isn't new territory for Mandell, who's mined the topic with varied combinations of quietly bleeding country reminiscent of Patsy Cline, cool jazz and singer-songwriter sketches, but she explores it on her latest album with more unflinching courage than ever before.

-- Margaret Wappler

Mandell celebrates the release of "Artificial Fire" at the Echo, 1822 W. Sunset Blvd. 8 p.m. Thursday.

Also, check for a feature on Mandell in Sunday's Calendar.