(Self-released, CD, digital download)
Listeners to Lizzy Mandell ’s new album, Made for Flying, will likely be left with one burning question: Who the hell is Lizzy Mandell? Judging by the all-star local cast assembled on her debut, central Vermont music aficionados appear to have been clued into something that, until now, the rest of the state had not: Mandell is a considerably gifted singer and songwriter. How and why she has flown under the radar to this point is a mystery.
Mandell’s freshman outing opens on “Isaac’s Song.” From her first crystalline vocal tones, it’s clear we’ve been missing out on something good. Backed by multi-instrumentalist Colin McCaffrey  — who also engineered the record — and vocalists Katie Trautz  (Wooden Dinosaur) and Erica Heilman, Mandell sings this tender ode in a fragile yet emotionally forceful alto.
The title track follows, and again McCaffrey wields an assortment of acoustic instruments, this time including piano, cello and mandolin (he later turns up on a variety of guitars, strings and percussion). This cut is brighter and poppier than the last, and Mandell displays versatility as a vocalist, fortifying her delivery without sacrificing any of the subtle expressiveness that makes “Isaac’s Song” so effective.
McCaffrey and Mandell continue to work in perfect concert. Nowhere is this more evident than on the gentle love song “Under Lock and Key.” Here, McCaffrey sings backing vocals. His harmonies, just like his playing and producing, are beautifully understated. At the song’s chorus — “Honey, walk with me / Come and take my hand / Let me help you to see, help you understand / My love for you will always be / Just keep my heart under lock and key” — McCaffery is an ideal balance to Mandell: David Rawlings to her Gillian Welch.
As impressive as McCaffrey’s contributions are — not to mention those of Brian Clark, Will Galison and Simon Plumpton — Made for Flying is Mandell’s show. Throughout the 11 original songs — two were cowritten with Hardwick’s Jimmy Ryan — she showcases an engaging vocal approach and a uniquely tender style of country and folk songwriting that’s as inviting as it is affecting. We may never know why it took Mandell so long to release her first album. But we sure can be glad she did.
Made for Flying by Lizzy Mandell is available at lizzymandell.com .