Michelle Mangione (no relation to Chuck) started as a drummer for notables Buddy Collette and Robben Ford before deciding to chase her own Muse, taking up the guitar while singing. That was a fortunate choice for the rest of us, as her songwriting and arranging abilities are impressive, a fact sanctioned by no less a heavywieght than Grace Slick, one of the immortal women in rock's Valhalla…or should I say Amazonia? After hearing the material for Mangione's first release (here), Grace had to contribute the cover art. Now, more than ever enamored of the music itself, she's written two songs with Michelle and can be seen in a liner shot with her.
The reason for that evolution, from supplying graphic work to abetting the creative process itself, is not hard to divine once the music's heard. Mangione may have been very good on the debut disc, but this sophomore release is a colt that has matured blindingly fast. Then, as if Gracie's presence weren't impressive enough, Mangione recruited talent from bands backing the likes of Robert Plant, Little Feat, Alabama, Joni Mitchell, and others. Ms. Slick's early predictions of unusual talent in this woman were well founded, now everyone's seeing it.
The title cut shows just how much Mangione has expanded, penning a very soulful folk-gospel cut in full genre deck-out before jumping into the crunchily rocking Sticky Fingers with Tom Kolb's electric leads dotting the I's and crossing the T's. Michelle plays several axes through the CD, but, if you doubt a guitarist can be an ace drummer—after all, it's a completely different set of muscles and chops—listen to her here and in several other cuts. You'll see why top talents like Ford sat her behind the kit.
Now add to that the fact that she co-produced and co-engineered the disc, mastered most of the tracks, and documented the entire thing in her bedroom studio, the result of which sounds as though it came from Quantum Studios, and you can estimate just how serious she is about her art. The overriding mode of the What is an Saint is mellow folk rock that often reminds me of JP Jones' work (here) for its preservation of more than one era. And, like Jones, there's not only a vitality present that's missing in far too much of what's vended elsewhere (are ya listening, Jeff Buckley?) but also the unfolding of ideas and sentiments far from the cliché, as in Love and Tenderness:
I don't want to take a second guess
I'm not asking you to stay all night
…and, boy, if that doesn't reflect the modern fractionated society we all live in, I don't know what does. Note, however, the absence of malice, retribution, and fear so common to the genre while simultaneously denoting the play of mutual damages connoted in those last three verses. Masterful.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2009, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.
Website design by David N. Pyles