Mandy Barnett - 'Strange Conversation' Album Review
1. More Lovin
2. It’s All Right (You’re Just In Love)
3. Dream Too Real To Hold
4. Strange Conversation
5. A Cowboy’s Work Is Never Done
6. Puttin’ On The Dog
7. All Night
8. My World Keeps Slipping Away
9. The Fool
10. Put A Chain On It
I grew up largely a Metalhead with only a few exceptions back in the 80’s. After high school, I found my tastes diversifying with Steve Earle really being my gateway Country musician through his ‘Shut Up and Die Like An Aviator’ live album. I gravitated towards artists that had unique identities and were not part of the homogenized system. A couple years later or so (1996), I heard ‘Now That’s Alright With Me’ by Mandy Barnett on CMT back when they used to play videos. It was love at first listen as she went back to an earlier style of Country that connected with me immediately. Her voice was huge and crystal clear. Her debut album immediately went into heavy rotation, and her follow up album ‘I’ve Got A Right To Cry’ exceeded the debut for me in every way. Sadly, the world apparently didn’t see things as clearly as I did, and Barnett seemed to disappear from the recording industry. In addition to some soundtrack appearances over the years, a Christmas album, an album of Patsy Cline classics, and an album of Don Gibson covers eventually were released 7-8 years ago and highlighted that the industry didn’t know what to do with someone as awesome as Barnett. She has continued to sing in different productions, tour, and work her butt off. When I first saw the listing for this album, I was excited to see what she might do here as this, to me, really feels like her third album. Let me get the only complaint I have out of the way now so that we can move into the rest of the review. She only included 10 songs on this beautiful diverse album that people the world over need to hear.
Barnett’s huge voice is on display across all ten of these songs with ‘More Lovin’ serving as our first taste of what is to come. A sultry Blues number originally recorded by Mable John sounds amazing with her ability to go from a low tone to a higher tone and makes the hair on your arms raise immediately. The slow groove is addictive and seductive. Follow up song ‘It’s All Right (You’re Just in Love)’ also takes us back to the 60’s with another awesome vocal that lets us know after multiple listens that we will keep those goosebumps and hair raised on our arms as Barnett sings like an angel. The line in the chorus where she does the ‘what did you say’ is pure unadulterated magic. ‘Dream Too Real to Hold’ writes the book on how to do a Torch style song with its more reserved instrumentation and expertly picked guitar allowing Barnett to leave us paralyzed.
The title track follows with us returning to a Blues groove, horns, and another vocal performance to leave us spellbound. She takes her voice through an amazing workout where we hang on every word, inflection, run, and turn of phrase for all five minutes. At the end of the first half, we get ‘A Cowboy’s Work Is Never Done’ which sounds like it has leapt off a Broadway Stage for us to hear. The horns leap out of the speakers with the rest of the music sounding more assertive in the mix, which simply allows Barnett to sound even more powerful and radiant. Only one other album really shares any kind of similar space with this album in 2018, and that is the landmark ‘Butter’ by Karen Jonas who also brilliantly blends different genres together.
Her cover of ‘Puttin’ On The Dog’ gets us started on the back half of the record with its rolling Blues flavor and even more twists from Barnett in the vocals. I had high expectations for this album, which I was afraid would set me up for disappointment, but this album actually exceeds them. Each listen has revealed more in the mix and just makes it that much better. The way the music becomes more frantic near the end just gels perfectly with the vocal before the band ride us out to the end of the song. ‘All Night’ caresses the listener with a soft touch, seductive vocals, and perfectly matched music. The drums become more pronounced in the mix at the perfect times. ‘My World Keeps Slipping Away’ provides us with a gorgeous ballad that could have been sang just like this on the Grand Ole Opry back in the 50’s. The flawless vocal allowing us to enjoy this restrained classic.
‘The Fool’ sadly reminds us how close we are to the end of the album with its rocking beat providing even more enjoyment to the album. The harmonica sounds awesome running counter to Barnett’s vocal as she sounds like she is having the time of her life. This throwback to an earlier time also gives the album a shot of adrenaline following the previous two songs. ‘Put A Chain On It’ brings the Rock again sounding like a shot of Elvis with some tasty backing vocals and a smoking guitar solo to help knock down whatever part of the house that might still be standing. This song swings hard and serves as a great closer to the album.
This is clearly Mandy Barnett’s show, and we get to witness yet another great album from her that really feels like a continuation of her first two solo albums. These ten songs work together perfectly to form a cohesive rounded listening experience. Barnett’s vocal abilities have only somehow improved over the years as quite honestly she sounded flawless over 20 years ago. This album and style might not be for everyone, but I cannot recommend this album enough to anyone that wants to enjoy a sultry, Bluesy, Country, and light Rock album by one of the greatest singers out there.
‘Strange Conversation’ is available now.
Website - https://www.mandybarnett.com/
Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/mandybarnettmusic/
Review - Gerald Stansbury