Liz Mandeville: Conduit to the Blues

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Ever the go-getter, Chicagoan Liz Mandeville related this tale to TMGR: “I woke up one day and said, ‘What am I going to do if for some unforeseeable reason I am no longer able to sing? What am I going to do then?’” Come to find out Liz is of the rare breed who then goes out to find another style of music to play, one that relies heavily on serious instrumentation. In this case it was early Piedmont-style acoustic blues guitar. But not only did she learn it, she actually got good at it.

Ever the songwriter, Liz even penned a couple of tunes while woodshedding with her guitar. In addition to the songwriting workshops she conducts around the country, she was nominated for Best Blues Songwriter of the Year 2008 by the American Roots Music Association. “Words are bridges to basic instincts; they make you want to know more,” Mandeville notes from her home in Chicago.

Mandeville has been with the Earwig blues label for many years, she is more than just a blues diva powerhouse with painting endeavors and music column writing to help round things out. “I’m an observer at the core. Through my songs the listener gets to see what I have seen and heard, be it in my voice, on my guitar, or through a painting. ”

A consummate entertainer with years of experience, she is sexy and sassy, a Mistress of Tasteful Bawdiness calling things out as they really are in the world.

“I’m there to make sure the happy animal comes out in people. I want to connect on a gut level. When I perform I want you to dance, to feel rhythm, to express yourself-to work up a good sweat. I want to conjure up the positive effect music can have the entire being,” she says.

As for the approach she and her band use when working on songs for the set: “We try to reinvent the song to fit the band and then we work the groove. It’s like a musical adventure. By doing songs differently we try to keep the feeling fresh and in the moment.”

Liz Mandeville and her world-class band, The Blue Points, will have you dancing and really feeling it deep on Saturday when they play the Cabin Fever Blues Series at Billy’s in support of Liz’s most recent release Red Top (Earwig). Mandeville has appeared in West Michigan previously at the Silver Cloud (GR), The B.O.B., Martini’s (now Billy’s), Winterfest (Grand Haven), and Creekfest (Newaygo).

“I’ve seen a thousand performances. I’ve gone to check out people I might never go see just to see what it is about them, what is it that makes them so popular. Then I try to incorporate that into what I do. I try to provide the humor and sophistication. I’m really lucky to be doing what I’m doing.”  by Chet Eagleman Jr.

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BLUES AND MORE: Two-fisted blueswomen

by George Fish

October 5, 2008

“Mandeville is a master of the blues idiom, both vocally and in songwriting.”

Liz Mandeville’s Red Top builds up a contemporary blues sound based on the stylistic bricks from its past.

Liz Mandeville draws her inspiration from more traditional sources, not just the electric blues from the 1950s on, but also from the swing and jazz of the 1940s, and, on “Rub My Belly,” from the blues rags of the 1920s, and on “Home Cookin’,” from the double-entendre acoustic folk blues of Mississippi John Hurt. (His classic “Candy Man” comes readily to mind.)  Red Top is a CD of artist-penned music, 15 tracks of Mandeville originals that comprise contemporary electric blues, jazz swing, a rocked-up 1920s Bessie Smith-style rag, a straightforward acoustic folk blues, and on the last cut, “Little Queen,” a musically eclectic number that’s a mixture of country-rock with Chuck Berry influence.

Mandeville is not only an accomplished songwriter. She’s also an excellent guitarist and compelling vocalist with a style that’s her own, another showing of the diversity within contemporary blues on the distaff side.

The basic substantive stuff of Chicago-based Mandeville’s sound is further enhanced by the array of musicians she’s chosen for this recording, including members of her touring band  These include fellow guitarists Luke Pytel and Mark Wydra, keyboardist Allen Batts, a three-piece horn section, and the Black Roses Gospel Choir on the fifth cut, the poignant “My Baby’s Her Baby Too.”

On the above-mentioned “Rub My Belly,” Mark Wydra plays electric slide guitar, and special guest Eddie Shaw, the dean of Chicago blues saxophonists, lends his elegant chops to the early 1960s soul-like “Hold Me” (partaking of both Jerry Butler and Otis Redding), and joins with the horn section on the aptly-titled rocker, “Guilty of Rockin’ All Night.”

Mandeville is a master of the blues idiom, both vocally and in songwriting, and throughout Red Top shows top ability to teach the old blues dog new tricks. She’s exuberantly self-referential on “Red Top” and “Guilty of Rockin’ All Night;” indignantly reproachful of her bad men on “Dog No More” and “So Smart Baby;” celebratory of her “badness” on “Spanky Butt;” aptly sarcastic as she skewers her drunken man on “Corner Bar Blues;” and existentially approaches life and death through the blues idiom. in her tale of hitting black ice while driving her rig on “Whoa, Whoa, Whoa.” She sexily appropriates the classic blues double-entendres on “Rub My Belly” and “Scratch the Kitty.”

While generally sticking to the apolitical, which is common in most blues, she does deliver a lament and protest of the U.S. healthcare system on “Illinois National Guard Blues.” Her mastery and aplomb enables her to effortlessly glide through sub-genres, and she is equally convincing on both jazzy swing and traditional blues, even to the point of mastering semi-scat on the jazz jump, “Bad Man Blues.” The CD is also nicely organized for variety, with various styles appropriately intermingled.

Both Mandeville’s Red Top and Richey’s Carry the Light engage the listener’s attention throughout, and don’t let up. Two solid blues approaches from completely different vantage points from two accomplished, seasoned artists of their respective genres — an excellent way to sum up both Liz Mandeville and Kelly Richey.