Time for a rude, selfish statement: I am grateful Mandy Moore hasn’t been more successful in her career up until now.
It’s not that I don’t like her; in fact, I’ve been a fan of hers for awhile. “I Wanna Be With You” was the first track I heard of hers that led me to follow her path. She’s matured and improved as a singer over the years, and her slow reinvention to adult contemporary songstress has been largely completed.
Originally lumped in with the teen pop era, coming out as Christina, Britney and friends were dominating the scene, Mandy wasn’t as successful as the others. This has forced her to take more risks, try something different, while Britney continues to sing over cold, calculated beats. Christina has been taking the Madonna route and reinventing for the hell of it and to create mystery, which is altogether different. No, Moore has been reinventing herself for survival.
This leads me to her newest CD, “Amanda Leigh,” released on May 26. Her attempts to stay in the game brought her to Mike Viola, who collaborated with her on the project. What results is easily one of the best releases of the year so far, and even more so is a standout release out of the thousands of CDs I’ve listened to over the years.
Moore’s settled in nicely with her sugary-sweet singing style, which has held pretty consistent since the “I Wanna Be With You” days, and is in top form. The music pops with flourishes and details, as instruments of eras gone by are dusted off and employed to infectious use here.
In the press release for the CD, Moore talks spiritedly about bringing in the Wurlitzer to spice up songs. Her excitement is well placed. It’s not a period piece, even with the use of classic instruments that have largely been abandoned for computerized synths. The music sounds both classic and new, a product of mixing instrumentation of then and songwriting of now.
No detail has been left unnoticed. The harmonies are creamy and gorgeous. The songs mix pop, country, folk and other genres into a tornado of energy that powers the CD. The music is full of flourishes, both vocal and instrumental, that add a nice polish and element of surprise at the same time. Strings are added in to fill out the sound beautifully.
While the entire album is a delight from start to finish, this listener was drawn to the more upbeat tracks, which most effectively employ this method. “Fern Dell,” which has a great driving beat, “I Could Break Your Heart Any Day of the Week” (which also serves as the lead single), “Pocket Philosopher,” which has one of the most unusual and fun endings to a song I’ve heard in awhile, and “Love to Love Me Back” are all incredibly fun and enjoyable listens. Add to the upbeat list “Nothing Everything,” which has some of the most fun vocal interplay I’ve heard in years, building to a crescendo as the song comes to an end.
On the ballad side, “Indian Summer” adds beautiful backing vocals and instrumentation to what is a very simple song about missing someone. “Merrimack River” shows one thing I love about this CD, which is how great Moore and Viola sound together, and they are joined with some beautiful strings and other simple instrumentation behind them. They make a great team on this CD.
This disc was a delight when I began to listen to it, and I can’t get away from it. This is by far one of the best surprises to come across my desk this year, and I give it my highest recommendation. Seek it out at a CD store or online; you’ll be very glad you let this batch of songs into your life.