Release date: March 7, 2020
Blue Kitty Music
By Robin Zimmerman
Liz Mandeville is back and her timing couldn’t have been more perfect. On her new CD, Playing with Fire, she speaks to our collective “sheltering in place” psyche. Whether it’s bingeing out on comfort food or spending too much time online, Mandeville’s got songs that speak to this strange time we’re living in.
Of course, Mandeville is no stranger to hard times. She was involved in a horrific accident a few years back. After her van struck another car (that was parked in her lane at night with no lights on) on the Kennedy Expressway in 2016, Mandeville sustained many serious injuries including a concussion, heart contusions and nerve damage to her hands. She was sent home from the hospital with a prescription for painkillers and the prognosis was that she would never perform again.
In another correlation with the “new normal,” Mandeville’s period of isolation forced her to rethink her career path. Choosing acupuncture over OxyContin, she concocted a self-care regimen that worked for her. A friend set up a “Go Fund Me” page which bolstered both her spirits and bank account as contributions, cards and flowers came in from fans all over the world.
Mandeville’s international appeal extends to her new CD as Playing with Fire features a fine cast from far-flung places including Italy, France, the Netherlands, Boston and beyond. She also recruited Chicago stalwarts like fiddler Anne Harris and guitarist Johnny Burgin to participate in the production of this CD, which was three years in the making.
Longtime fans and new listeners will agree that Playing with Fire was worth the wait. In addition to her guitar skills, Mandeville is also an accomplished songwriter. Playing with Fire finds her killing it with clever lyrical twists and musical styles ranging from Delta blues and swing to slow, smooth ballads. While enduring the boring sameness of quarantine existence, the multi-faceted music on Playing with Fire is the perfect antidote on any given Groundhog Day.
The versatile Mandeville collaborated with a variety of talented musicians on Playing with Fire and there are five separate sessions included on the CD. She brings on Italian guitarist and former Phil Guy band member Dario Lombardo for the first session and he shares musical writing credits with Mandeville.
The first track is called “Bailing the Titanic” and it chronicles a sinking love affair. This tune also features some inspired guitar work by Lombardo along with Liz’s bandmates Andy Sutton on drums and Steve Hart on bass.
This “Titanic” crew returns for the second tune on the CD. “Online Love Affair” is a humorous take on today’s Tinder-centric relationships. The refrain of “swipe right, swipe left” will register with many who have taken the plunge into online dating.
Mandeville brings on local fiddler virtuoso, Anne Harris, for the next song. On “Everybody’s Got Wings,” this dynamic duo hits the perfect ethereal note. Jim Godsey comes on to play drums on this hauntingly hopeful number.
In another correlation with cocooning at the casa, hope can quickly segue into boredom-induced binge eating and Mandeville nails it on the next number. On “Comfort Food Blues” the real-life yoga buff delivers a heaping helping of relatable razor-sharp lines. From “size 2 would be so great but who can resist cake?” and “turning off the news and getting my comfort food blues,” the tune will strike a chord with many who’ve been there and eaten that.
“Comfort Food Blues” is the result of a successful session and songwriting collaboration with Japanese guitarist Minorou Maruyama who serves up some satisfying guitar along with a side of slide that pairs well with Mandeville’s steaming hot vocals. These sessions also feature Darryl Wright on bass and Andy Sutton on drums.
She shifts it into high vocal gear on the next number and first song from the Big Dez sessions. Their “Keep on Working” is a rocking tune that has blistering harp by Gilles Gabisson with his fellow Frenchmen Phillipe Fernandez (aka Big Dez) doing some heavy guitar lifting. Chicago bassist Andre Howard was brought in to deliver some muscle to “Keep on Working” as well as “I Just Cry” and “How Many Times.”
“How Many Times (Do You Get to Break My Heart)” features Steve Bass (from the late Eddy Clearwater’s band) on drums and vocals. Chicago’s Johnny Cotton, Charlie Kimble and Jeannie Tanner also turn in solid vocal support on this catchy little concoction.
Mandeville’s signature swing’s the thing on the next song that sprung from the session with Ilana Katz Katz. On “He Loves My Biscuits,” Katz’s fiddle work and Carl Uchiyama’s vocals add some spice on this ode to Mandeville’s culinary skills that’s sprinkled with a healthy dose of double innuendos.
The pair doubles down on food analogies as the next track “Just Give Her Chocolate” is a rocking homage to the drawing power of dark chocolate. This track features a snappy violin solo by Katz and some stellar back-up by way of drummer Steve Bass and Andre Howard who are also featured on “He Loves My Biscuits.”
Mandeville’s been known to make frequent forays to the birthplace of the blues in Clarksdale, Mississippi and “Poor Robert Johnson” has that down-home Delta sound. It’s the first of four songs she recorded with Dutch guitarist Peter Struijk with drumming support from Bass, Steve Hart on bass and Dizzy Bolinski on harp.
The four songs on the Struijk sessions have a bit of a historical slant. “Down in Joliet Town” tells the tale of a two-bit criminal who falls in with none other than Alphonse Capone. They then segue into Mandeville’s own story with “Boss Lady” outlining her horrific accident and impressive comeback.
Playing with Fire wraps up in fine fashion with “Hey Babe Ya Wanna Boogie.” Written by John Hartford, this good-time closing number has a ragtime flavor and features a guitar solo by former Chicagoan Johnny Burgin with Steve Hart on tuba and Mandeville on washboard.
While Playing with Fire might be the perfect soundtrack for these chaotic times, it also has the proverbial legs and provides a solid 54 minutes of listening pleasure in the days and months to come. You can also catch Ms. Mandeville’s livestream performances every Thursday and Saturday at 6 p.m. CST through her Facebook page.
For more info or to buy the CD: www.lizmandeville.com