It’s been five years since Mandy Barnett released new music. Audiences last heard from Barnett when she played the title role in the stage production of Always… Patsy Cline or listened to her 2013 tribute LP to singer-songwriter Don Gibson. This return from that musical hiatus reflects Barnett’s self-identification as a torch singer, or someone who has mastered several musical skills. The album flits and flirts with an array of genres but constantly returns to one defining feature: Barnett’s stunning voice.
Strange Conversations opens with bewitchingly bluesy ‘More Lovin’’, originally recorded by Mable John, the first female artist signed by Berry Gordy to his Motown subsidiary, Tamla. Barnett maintains the song as a bluesy love song but adds her twangy yet sensual vocals that are underscored by Arnold McCuller, longtime backup singer for James Taylor. Doug Lancio’s guitar and Tom West’s organ evoke a retro country vibe. The cover’s tempo is significantly slower thereby enshrouding it with an overt sultriness. Her rendition of Sonny and Cher’s ‘A Cowboy’s Work Is Never Done’ is resounding. She includes tack piano and a robust brass section plus the raspiness of John Hiatt featured as guest vocalist.
With unadulterated vocal talent, Barnett flawlessly melds emotion, seduction, and vibrancy to create an inspired take on a classic country songbook.