Three albums into a career reboot that has thus far unsuccessfully attempted to transform the erstwhile teen-pop starlet and actress into a credible AAA act, Mandy Moore finally pulls off that transition with Amanda Leigh. Working primarily with singer-songwriter Mike Viola of the Candy Butchers, Moore’s latest effort may lack the hipster cred of similar efforts by Zooey Deschanel or Scarlett Johansson, but it’s a far more accomplished, more satisfying pop record than either of those two actresses managed to release.
Because Moore has laid bare her main influences (Joni Mitchell, especially, but also Carole King, Elton John, and Harry Nilsson) since 2003’s uneven Coverage, it’s no surprise that she leans heavily on the low-key, introspective pop of the ‘70s throughout Amanda Leigh. But if the arrangements on standout cuts like the Celtic-inspired “Fern Dell” and the moody “Everblue,” a collaboration with Lori McKenna, aren’t exactly surprising, it’s still refreshing to hear an indie-pop album in 2009 that owes more to the straightforward pop songcraft of Todd Rundgren—most obviously on plucky lead single “I Could Break Your Heart Any Day of the Week”—than to the lush compositions of Brian Wilson.
Amanda Leigh lacks a certain pretension, even if songs like “Love to Love Me Back” and “Indian Summer” occasionally skew a bit too cutesy for their own good. Moore’s sincerity and her pleasant vocals bring a great deal of charm to the project as well, and that goes a long way toward overcoming production that is perhaps a bit too slick to recall the homespun appeal of her favorite records. But Moore’s good taste has finally translated into a mature and, yes, credible album that stands on its own merits.