Inspired by her experience teaching songwriting at a women’s prison, Eleni Mandell’s 11th studio release, Wake Up Again, is a set of compelling personalized musical portraits and vignettes. The prison gig came about via Jail Guitar Doors, the organization founded by Wayne Kramer, guitarist of the vaunted Detroit band MC5, in partnership with English musician Billy Bragg.
The musical settings for these stories and the questions they pose are lean, spare, direct, portraying the gray and blue with equal measures of starkness and tenderness. In many ways it’s the culmination and fulfillment of all the strengths as a writer and performer going back to her start under the tutelage of Chuck E. Weiss, Tom Waits and other top chroniclers of people in the shadows. All of this is accomplished by Mandell with the compact trio of bassist Ryan Feves and drummer Kevin Fitzgerald (both of whom have anchored her touring band since 2004) and guitarist Milo Jones. The album was produced by Sheldon Gomberg—who played bass on Mandell’s second and third albums.