Anyone who saw singer Mandy Barnett playing the title role in Always… Patsy Cline or heard her splendid 2013 tribute LP to singer-songwriter Don Gibson is already aware of Barnett’s ability to deliver polished Nashville Sound classics with panache. The Tennessee native, who grazed the country charts in the late Nineties with Americana-ready material when that movement was in its infancy, earned considerable praise for her vocal range and should be well-positioned to do the same with regard to the breadth of material on her forthcoming album.
Barnett will end a five-year gap between recordings with the September 21st release of Strange Conversation, a partnership with her own Dame Productions and growing powerhouse label Thirty Tigers. Recorded in Muscle Shoals and co-produced by Marco Giovino (Robert Plant’s Band of Joy) and Doug Lancio (Patty Griffin, Todd Snider), the LP bursts forth with a dynamic array of tunes from the worlds of pop, R&B and folk, with selections by a range of writers from Neil Sedaka (who pitched his own sorrowful “My World Keeps Slipping Away,” previously recorded by Connie Francis) to Tom Waits, whose “Puttin’ on the Dog” Barnett unleashes with spring-loaded abandon amid a flurry of fuzzed-out guitars.
A self-described torch singer, the artist who signed her first major label deal at age 12 comes closest to her country roots with Lee Hazelwood’s “The Fool,” a barroom lament that swings with rollicking production that would surely put a smile on Cline producer Owen Bradley’s face. In one of the LP’s most endearingly rambunctious numbers, John Hiatt plays Sonny to Barnett’s Cher to as they update the pair’s 1972 hit, “A Cowboy’s Work Is Never Done.”
The album opens with another tune featuring some distinguished back-up on the bewitchingly bluesy “More Lovin’,” originally recorded by blues legend Mable John, the first female artist signed by Berry Gordy to his Motown subsidiary, Tamla. Barnett’s slippery, sensual vocals are accompanied by those of Arnold McCuller, longtime backup singer for James Taylor and others.
“I fell in love with Mable John’s version of ‘More Lovin’.’ I kept going back to it and felt strongly about recording it,” Barnett tells Rolling Stone Country. “When we went into the studio, I realized the tempo was going to be a little too fast for me; it was moving at a pretty good clip. So, we slowed it down and then it gradually became something else that I loved – kind of slinky and swampy, which surprised all of us, but we went with it. And then when Arnold added his vocal to the track, it turned it into a really smooth and soulful interpretation.”
Strange Conversation will be available September 21st. Here is the complete track listing:
- “More Lovin'”
- “It’s All Right (You’re Just in Love)”
- “Dream Too Real to Hold”
- “Strange Conversation”
- “A Cowboy’s Work Is Never Done” (featuring John Hiatt)
- “Puttin’ on the Dog”
- “All Night”
- “My World Keeps Slipping Away”
- “The Fool”
- “Put a Chain on It”