Eleni Mandell, Chuck Prophet and Tim Easton

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Eleni Mandell, Chuck Prophet and Tim Easton

Eleni Mandell
Just months after a sultry performance in which she unveiled selections from her stellar sophomore effort, Thrill, Eleni Mandell returns to Davey's Uptown as the middle act in one of the young year's most solid top-to-bottom bills. Mandell's slow-burning guitar and smoky voice, in addition to this L.A. woman's proximity to the studios, make her a movie-music mainstay. (The menacing "Pauline" and the perky salsa tune "Never Know the Party's Here" turn up in the freakout flick Monkeybone, marking Mandell's latest big-screen exposure.) Both of her records (her first was 1999's Wishbone) are absorbing, lushly arranged affairs, but her live show strips away the layers of instrumentation, leaving the raw nerves of the songs throbbing and exposed.

Chuck Prophet
Like many American songwriters unheralded at home, Chuck Prophet, founding member of '80s Americana band Green on Red, is a hit in Europe. The English music press, notably Select, dubbed Prophet a hero, the missing link between sliced bread and Gram Parsons. With last year's The Hurting Business (song and album title, he says, taken from a Mike Tyson quote), Prophet augmented a basic guitar, bass and drums lineup with seasick organs, loopy percussion and, on a couple of songs, a record-scratching DJ. Prophet describes one song aptly as "J.J. Cale locked in the research department of Mattel Toys," but the songs' incisive humor and shady characters still came through, and the music has an urgency that promises the already reliable Prophet will tear up the stage.

Tim Easton
Tim Easton is a good bet to secure the John Prine end of that spectrum. His latest release, The Truth About Us, is full of wise, blunt and hopeful songs, such as "Half a Day," a half-bitter grumble about a woman who arrives (and leaves) half a day before he's due to get home. Although there are a few moments when it seems as if Easton's "doing" Prine (or Vic Chesnutt, on the gotta-be-Chesnutt "Bad Florida"), most of the album avoids sheer mimicry. Wilco drummer Ken Coomer, bassist John Stirrat and multi-instrumentalist Jay Bennett provide able, versatile musical backing, freed temporarily from the subtle pressures of just being Wilco. The Truth About Us is smart without being ironic, the kind of record anyone with a battered heart (or guitar) can love.

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