Garage-sale she-blues troubadour Eleni Mandell sent a quiet ripple through indie circles with down-but-not-out storytelling on her 1998 DIY debut, "Wishbone."
We heard echoes of PJ Harvey and Liz Phair (as filtered through Rickie Lee Jones and Tom Waits) in Mandell's gutter-gazing musical wanderings. With the follow-up, "Thrill," these patron saints return as a reference point. But Mandell manages a slippery balancing act between conjuring songwriting's emotionally bare, noir luminaries and exuberantly crafting her own idiosyncratic take on love, life and Los Angeles from the thrift-score side of the tracks. Her biting, crisply ruminative lyrics describe a world populated by gender friction, road-weary emotional traction and the haze of cigarette smoke.
Mandell's subtle rhythmic interplay and emphasis on percussion keep such cuts as "He Thinks He's in Love" and "1970 Red Chevelle" well this side of the singer-songwriter ghetto. May we expect many unhappy returns from this angel of the low-rent district.