Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Mandy Barnett

  • Mandy Barnett [Asylum, 1996] Choice Cuts
  • I've Got a Right to Cry [Sire, 1999] A-
  • Strange Conversation [Dame Productions/Thirty Tigers, 2018] A-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Mandy Barnett [Asylum, 1996]
"Planet of Love" Choice Cuts

I've Got a Right to Cry [Sire, 1999]
The main thing her critics'-choice debut proved was that when you put a good young singer up against a bunch of Kostas songs, the Kostas songs win. Not that this 23-year-old Patsy Cline fan is any less produced or conceptualized here--more so, actually. But the conceptualization is so audacious, and so perfectly suited to her timbre and swing, that it's more fun than what it rips off, by which I mean countrypolitan. The strings, the prefab licks, the rinky-dink beats, the hooks with exclamation points on them, the background singers going woo-oo-oo and whoa-oh--everything the late Owen Bradley did for and to country music is here, with Owen himself overseeing four tracks and his brother-partner Harold following his notes on the rest. Yet Barnett has these wonderful pipes, and not only does she sing as if she loves the songs, she sings as if she can scarcely contain her warm fuzzy feelings for the style itself. My fave is "Trademark," originally a c&w No. 2 for the forgotten hit machine Carl Smith in 1952. But the new-growth corn tastes just as good with a coating of caramel. A-

Strange Conversation [Dame Productions/Thirty Tigers, 2018]
I doubt Barnett conceives this strange little album as a rebuke to the reverent high musicianship of the Patsy Cline interpretations she made her bread and butter long before 2011's Sweet Dreams. High musicianship with a gourmet flourish is what she does. But there's a savor in hearing it applied to this potpourri of humble deep-pop obscurities--late Connie Francis, later Sonny and Cher, lost girl-group and guy-group keepers by Mable John and the Tams--garnished with newer art-pop obscurities. For me the clincher is "The Fool," a top-10 one-shot for 21-year-old Sanford Clark that I thought I hadn't heard since 1956 until I found out there are karaoke versions. A-