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Album Review

Mandy still needs to deliver more

May 25, 2009
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Pop
Mandy Moore Amanda Leigh
Storefront Records
ESSENTIAL "Merrimack River"

Gosh, it's hard to recover from a stint in the teen-pop trenches. Mandy Moore has been trying for years to convince music lovers that she's got more to offer than the cheap hooks and recycled dance beats that made her a sort of poor man's Britney back in the day. In 2003 she released a covers collection tipping her hat to Carole King, Elton John, Joe Jackson, and Todd Rundgren. Four years later she tried her hand at introspective adult-pop originals, hitching her wagon to respectable songwriters like Lori McKenna and Rachael Yamagata.

Moore's attractive new album, "Amanda Leigh," takes her given name for its title, which is celebrity shorthand for "This is the real me." And there's the rub, not to mention the reason Moore's mature releases haven't gotten much traction: The real Mandy, or Amanda, or whoever, just isn't very interesting.

She does, however, have fine instincts and good taste. Power-pop guru Mike Viola, of the Candy Butchers, is the album's producer and main co-writer, and the collection (recorded at Ducky Carlisle's Ice Station Zebra in Medford) is filled with his sweet, skewed melodies and smart, infectious choruses. Highlights include the cockeyed acoustic opener "Merrimack River," pseudo-show tune "Pocket Philosopher," and moody "Everblue." Would that Moore's singing were hungrier, wittier, weirder, or in any way more remarkable than pretty.

Here's hoping a bit of her new husband Ryan Adams's combustibility rubs off, and that Moore figures out how to dig a little deeper. (Out tomorrow) JOAN ANDERMAN