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House of Tudor 

L.A.'s Eleni Mandell doesn't care if you like her sultry voice or not - but you will

Wednesday, Aug 27 2003
Like cigar smoke drifting through a porch screen door, the voice of Eleni Mandell is as sweet, warm, and elusive as a late-night conversation or slow summer day -- not the voice you might expect from a Valley Girl backed by DJ Bonebrake and former X guitarist Tony Gilkyson, but Mandell is not your typical L.A. woman. She likes walking, she likes waitressing, and she likes losing. After all, salvation might be just around the corner, amidst the shards of a broken heart, or at the bottom of a good cup of joe. If not salvation, certainly a good story or two, or 40. Since 1995, Mandell has released four albums, drawing comparisons to PJ Harvey, Chan Marshall, and Patsy Cline, and garnering her songs inclusion on Six Feet Under and on the Palmetto and Monkeybone soundtracks. Yet she remains unsigned, playing quietly in small bars while the who's who of Los Angeles line up to sit in. Oddly, for a lifelong devotee of all things X (as a young teen, Mandell religiously trailed the band and its various incarnations) working with Bonebrake and Gilkyson has not turned her head. In fact, if anything, Mandell's slow, sultry surety has left marks on those old hands. On her first country collection, 2003's Country for True Lovers, which Gilkyson produced and engendered by way of his own handpicked musicians, it is still Mandell's rich voice, turbulent heart, and deceptively simple soul that govern every note. It seems clear, even to professional Los Angelenos, that Mandell might just as well sit onstage next to an old street drunk beating a cardboard box, because when she opens her mouth, the room is hers. Eleni Mandell performs at the Make-Out Room on Sunday, Aug. 31, with Tom Heyman and Neighborly Deeds opening at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $6; call 647-2888.

In the mid-'80s, when house music was still a dissident embryo growing in the belly of underground nightclubs and pirate radio, future techno chanteuse Billy Ray Martin was singing soul in Berlin nightclubs. Her seemingly incongruent love of early '80s industrial music found purchase in 1987 when she moved to Birmingham, England, and posted a classified ad in Melody Maker, which read, "Soul rebel seeks genius." Joe Stevens, Les Fleming, Roberto Cimarosti, and Brian Nordhoff heeded the call, and the resultant techno-pop group, Electribe 101, became the soft-focus guiding light of British house for several years. After standout parquet hits like "Talking With Myself" and "Tell Me When the Fever Ended," the diva and the engineer argonauts parted ways. (As clubhounds will recall, Martin went on to release two solo Top 10 dance singles, "Your Loving Arms" and "Running Around Town.") Finding house music growing ever more formulaic and facile, Stevens, Cimarosti, and Nordhoff dove deeper into the world of dub, which had held sway over the British underground since King Tubby's reign in the early '70s. Re-emerging as the Groove Corporation, the trio quickly proved themselves nimble helmsmen in aural territory ruled by grand musical pirates such as Lee "Scratch" Perry, U-Roy, the Scientist, the Mad Professor, Mikey Dread, and Prince Jammy. Their first release, Co-Operation, reaped a bounty of requests for remixes of everyone from Bob Marley to Ennio Morricone, and their second, Dub Plates From the Elephant House Volume One, turned their studio into a laid-back vacation spot for dub day-trippers, techno two-steppers, and dance floor vanguards. Volume Two ups the ante and shreds the house flag. Eschewing all techno inflections, it drifts down a lazy river of beats, picking up dancehall, jazz, and roots-reggae spice along the way. Sonically seamless, but with divergent textures and climates, it pulls you to your feet with tracks like "Clever Kid" and "Liberation Dub" and sucks you into a spliff-strewn stupor with tracks like "Scatter" and "Ghetto Side," fantastically placing the Elephant House studio on a par with King Tubby's own. Groove Corporation makes its Bay Area debut during "Dub Mission"'s seventh anniversary on Sunday, Aug. 31, at the Elbo Room along with Jah Grizzly on turntables, Ras T-Weed on the mike, and DJ Sep opening at 9 p.m. Tickets are $12-15; call 552-7788. -- Silke Tudor

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Silke Tudor


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