Amanda Leigh is Mandy Moore's full given name, so it stands to reason that this, her sixth album, finds the pop starlet turned singer/songwriter getting real -- not necessarily confessional, but intimate, a record that follows the form and feel of her AAA makeover, Wild Hope. Amanda Leigh improves on that mannered, earnest record not by abandoning ...Read MoreAmanda Leigh is Mandy Moore's full given name, so it stands to reason that this, her sixth album, finds the pop starlet turned singer/songwriter getting real -- not necessarily confessional, but intimate, a record that follows the form and feel of her AAA makeover, Wild Hope. Amanda Leigh improves on that mannered, earnest record not by abandoning or heavily reworking the template (one that has essentially been in place ever since Mandy discovered '70s singer/songwriters on her 2003 covers album, Coverage), but by strengthening its foundation through working with sympathetic collaborators, chiefly Mike Viola, the singer/songwriter behind the Candy Butchers who has also written period-specific pastiches for the films Walk Hard and That Thing You Do. Viola works on all but one song here -- Lori McKenna, a Wild Hope veteran, is responsible for "Every Blue" -- and Inara George, half of the Bird and the Bee, contributes to three tunes, and their work helps steer Moore toward the neo-classicist pop she's been striving to create for the better part of a decade now. Echoes of her oft-cited '70s pop inspirations abound -- particularly Joni Mitchell, but also Harry Nilsson on the tinkling pianos of "Pocket Philosopher" and Todd Rundgren, whose influence reverberates on "I Could Break Your Heart Any Day of the Week," the liveliest thing here -- but emphasizing these influences too strongly is misleading, suggesting Amanda Leigh is a funky hippie throwback when it's very much a product of its upscale tasteful times, a clean, classy collection of AAA pop recalling a user-friendly Fiona Apple or friendlier Jenny Lewis as much, if not more, than a '70s canyon lady. Everything about Amanda Leigh is just a shade too precise -- the production too transparent, the singing too on the nose, the mood too subdued -- to achieve the homespun quality Moore so cherishes, but a large part of Mandy's appeal is her good taste and her clean way with a song, something that is readily apparent and often winning on Amanda Leigh. She'll never be a child of nature or a pop auteur -- she's still too much a showbiz kid for that -- but she has successfully dropped all the tacky accoutrements of her past and turned into a sweet, classy singer/songwriter whose charms are readily apparent here, her best adult pop record yet. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, RoviRead Less
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