There’s nothing in our lifetimes that can really compare to the worldwide freeze of Covid-19. People are dying, parents are losing their ability to provide for their children and venturing out into public feels like opening yourself up to invasion from a mysterious virus with no cure. The future is as uncertain as the present is unnerving and society as a whole has been shaken to its core.
In such dark times, trying to connect to something comforting, familiar and grounding is a natural response. In this sense, it’s hard not to be drawn to the healing powers of songwriter Leslie Mendelson’s triumphant new album “If You Can’t Say Anything Nice…” It is imbued with the big, warm sonic aesthetic and emotive lyricism of AM radio songwriters such as Linda Rondstadt and Jackson Browne, whose treasured ability to heal our pains by speaking sympathetically to our greatest fears with honest words have touched generations of listeners. Her tender responses to the pain inflicted daily by gun violence, depression and the opioid crisis (not to mention our current situation) are a salve to our distressed psyches and the album’s inviting emphasis on simple, powerful songwriting provides a place for us to shelter and heal comfortably through this passing storm.
“Lay It On Me” is the riveting introduction to the album. It immediately demands your attention with a rousing crash of piano keys and drums, with the sound quickly dropping out to reveal Mendelson’s strong, yet soft-hearted voice falling like soft rain in the middle of a thunderstorm. Singing “I just want to ease your pain/Beat the hammer through these walls/Anything that I can say/To make your fears feel so small/So lay it all on me,” she selflessly emotes, hoping to shoulder your troubles in whatever way she can. The simple pairing of songwriter, piano and rhythm section is a stylistic approach that draws it strength from such foundational songwriters as Elton John and Carly Simon, with warms whirrs of the guitar and gentle choir calling back to classic Beatles production.
Harkening back to such a golden era in songwriting, both sonically and compositionally, serves “If You Can’t Say Anything Nice…” well, allowing Mendelson to wrap you up in the great, comforting tones of our collective past, while speaking to modern fears and vulnerabilities. The piano ballad “Medication” sounds like if Linda Rondstadt sang a forgotten John Lennon song, yet struggles with crawling out of the seemingly helpless hole of self-medicating in the time of opioids. “Would You Give Up Your Gun” is a somber country poem that questions the necessity of gun culture and the title track rumbles along with the same nostalgic roll of Robert Plant and Allison Krause’s “Gone Gone Gone” as it addresses the vitriol that has grabbed hold of public discourse.
Mendelson offers up some of her deepest fears on the album and in doing so allows others to see their own fears in herself, opening up the possibilities of support through shared experiences. Much like Mendelson surely found relief in writing these songs, she gives her listeners the opportunity to find their own peace in connecting with the songs, whether that be inviting you to sing out your emotions in the tenderly rousing chorus of “The Hardest Part” or to silently reflect in the candle lit melody of closing number “My Dark Peace.” In doing so, her songs are antidotal balms to the human soul, whose timeless usefulness is apparent during our most depressed times.
“If You Can’t Say Anything Nice…” is an emotional give-and-take between Leslie Mendelson and her listeners that can be quite personal and moving, as the best of these kinds of relationships are. This album will certainly strengthen the communal bonds that reside in all of us and help us collectively heal each other’s wounds as we try to find a way back to normalcy.
— Garrett Bethmann
- Leslie Mendelson
- ‘If You Can’t Say Anything Nice…’
- Label: Royal Potato Family
- Release: April 17, 2020