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Jason Mandell on The Coals' new album 'A Happy Animal,' unashamed LA country music

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The Coals' new album, "A Happy Animal," in its natural habitat.
John Rabe
The Coals' new album, "A Happy Animal," in its natural habitat.

Yes, the new record from the LA-based country band The Coals is only 22 minutes long, but the music on it is inventive, catchy, genuine, and moving.

"Så gör även detta countryfolkiga band som på sin andra platta A Happy Animal ger lyssnaren tjugotvå behagliga minuters lyssning."  Ikon Magazine (Sweden), 2013

That's the understatement of the year. Yes, A Happy Animal, the new record from the LA-based country band The Coals, is only 22 minutes long, but the music is much better than "pleasant," Ikon. It's inventive, catchy, genuine, and moving.

The very tall Jason Mandell, lead singer, songwriter, and guitarist, says The Coals derives its name from Cole's PE Buffet, the downtown restaurant and bar that's allegedly the originator of the French Dip sandwich. "A much earlier version of this band used to play there, back when it was a total dive and everyone was afraid to go in. We just had to change (the spelling of the name) for legal reasons." 

 Southland Serenade: Jason, are you one of these guys who can write anywhere? Some guys need to be on a mountainside in total quiet. Where do you fit on that scale?
Jason Mandell: It's very simple. On one side I have a woman fanning me, and on the other a woman feeding me grapes.

You'll understand why the ladies would agree to fanning and grapery if you listen to our interview with Mandell, in which he gives us an exclusive rendition of Kris Kristofferson's 1970 tune Help Me Make It Through the Night. Kristofferson, Mandell says, along with Townes Van Zandt and Gene Clark, taught him a lot about songwriting: keeping the soul of country music, but using unexpected and more complex chord changes to keep it interesting. 

Why country? Mandell says, "I think when I started writing songs, it felt like the only style I could comfortably write in, because it's about lyrics and stories, and every song needs a reason to be."

Over on the left, you'll see exclusive web audio in which Mandell explains the origins of the song Dirt Road, and hints that he'd wished he'd gotten his shoes dusty that day. In our main interview, you'll hear us talk about Sally Dworsky, who sings with Mandell on "Baseline Blues," and whom Garrison Keillor says has "the voice of an angel."

Want to go see The Coals play? Here are their next two gigs:

  • Sept 9 at Witz End, 1717 Lincoln Blvd, Venice CA 90291
  • Sept 14 at 701 Santa Monica Blvd, Santa Monica, in the parking lot under the building (Jason writes: "It's much cooler than it sounds.")
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