Music: Return to Love

Leslie Mendelson sings from the heart

By Charlie Swanson

To the public’s perception, it may appear that Grammy-nominated singer and songwriter Leslie Mendelson’s new album, Love & Murder, is her first work in eight years. The truth is much more complicated, and in the face of both professional and personal losses in the last decade, Mendelson has never stopped writing.

“This was a difficult record to make,” she says. After a promising debut in 2009’s Swan Feathers, Mendelson suffered setbacks when she lost a record and management deal. Then, her friend and producer Joel Dorn unexpectedly passed away.

“It’s like starting over again,” she says. Mendelson bounced between London and New York for several years, trying to get a new record off the ground; finding only frustration, she shelved the efforts.

In 2015, things turned around when producer Mark Howard (Bob Dylan, Lucinda Williams) called Mendelson and asked her if she wanted to work together. “We went through my material and put together the songs that fit best,” she says. “It was definitely darker, because it was an outlet for my frustrations.”

Indeed, Love & Murder is a stark collection of melodic folk songs, often featuring Mendelson’s effervescent vocals wafting over simple guitar or piano lines. The album thematically pushes through the songwriter’s pain and reaches cathartic enlightenment towards the end.

Mendelson, who partnered with the Grateful Dead’s Bob Weir on a cover of “Blue Bayou” for her new album, plays a record release show this month at the Sweetwater Music Hall.

“I’ve been playing these songs with a band, so we’ll be rocking,” she says. “We’ll hit all the points.”

Leslie Mendelson, Tuesday, May 23, Sweetwater Music Hall, 19 Corte Madera Ave., Mill Valley; 8pm; 415/388-3850;

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