By John DeFore
The oddly named, Epitaph-affiliated label ANTI- may have gotten off the ground as a place for legends like Merle Haggard and Tom Waits to rejuvenate their careers, but lately it is becoming a place for very distinctive young female voices.
The last year has seen two gorgeous releases from Jolie Holland; they just signed rising star Neko Case; and now, there's A Girl Called Eddy. A Jersey native born Erin Moran, the songwriter's self-titled debut LP hit shelves on Tuesday and could easily become the orchestro-pop answer to Beth Orton's folky electronica. If the disc sounds more English than Springsteenian, part of the credit goes to Pulp's Richard Hawley, who co-produced it, and part to an infatuation with British pop-soul queen Dusty Springfield. American pop plays a part too, but mainly in a retro way; songs like "Somebody Hurt You" and "People Used to Dream About the Future" have Burt Bacharach written all over them, and more contemporary tracks like "The Long Goodbye" are scarce. The big question is how long she can pull this mode off before switching gears; until then, she has this corner of the troubadour universe to herself.
Eleni Mandell may have released four full albums before Afternoon (Zedtone), but don't feel bad if you haven't heard them; even The New Yorker didn't seem to know she had a recording deal when they called her "perhaps the best unsigned musician in the business." In fact, the Zedtone label was started for her benefit, and it's easy to see how somebody could get so infatuated with her music that he would go into debt for it: One of the songs asks "Can't You See I'm Soulful," but the question is rhetorical; on the slow songs here, Mandell opens her mouth a bit and a smoky, sultry stuff flows out.
A smoky voice alone isn't enough. Julia Fordham, for instance, has an almost hyperbolically seductive croon, but herlatest batch of songs, That's Life (Vanguard) just kind of sits there, and the album's production (by Joni Mitchell's producer and ex-husband Larry Klein) is as sluggish as a jar of molasses with a "use by" date reading 1987.
At least Klein's production is more or less in sync with what Fordham is doing. Listening to Ben Watt's Buzzin' Fly Volume One (Astralwerks), you'd never know that Low vocalist Mimi Parker was known for somber indie art-rock and not for somnambulist disco grooves. To be fair, Low surely knew what they were getting when they had Watt (the dancey half of Everything But The Girl) remix their "Tonight," and this hour-plus collection of House remixes has introduced the band to a huge new Ecstasy-chewing audience. More power to everyone involved, but here's hoping that Watt will start making music of his own in the near future.
Finally, there's Fortune (Misra /Bar/None), the latest from The Mendoza Line, released this week and worth inclusion here thanks to the sticky Lucinda Williams-like vowels of Shannon Mary McArdle. McArdle wrote or co-wrote five of the disc's tunes, and she sounds fantastic with a pedal-steel guitar stretched out beneath her. She gets the disc's tearjerkers, like the hopeless "Throw it in the Fire," while the guys do rockers like the Stonesy "An Architect's Eye" and New Wave-echoing "Before I Hit the Wall."
Greil Marcus loves 'em, but that shouldn't keep you from listening to an album as musically diverse as A Girl Called Eddy's is consistent and as lively as Fordham's is soporific. •
By John DeFore