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Rhythm & Views

Mandy Moore

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Although Mandy Moore's early teen-pop career suffered from the innocuous quality of her mainstream material, she was the least controversial of the young wave of female singers to emerge from the pack in the late 1990s--and prettier than Jessica, Britney and Christina combined.

Four years have passed since Moore's last full album, as her modeling and acting career has taken off. There's no question she's a talented singer, even if she has yet to develop a distinctive voice. However, with her fifth disc, she proves she is now a grown-up recording artist, treading in the folk-pop realm of Paula Cole, Shawn Colvin and Brandi Carlile.

Moore co-wrote all the tunes, drawing from a talent pool of guests such as Lori McKenna, The Weepies, Chantal Kreviazuk and Rachael Yamagata. John Alagia (who has worked with John Mayer) produced the tracks.

Heartbreak seems Moore's current trade, even as the opener (and lead single) "Extraordinary" burbles along on a subtle hip-hop beat and is a charming slap of positivism that doesn't feel too forced.

While "All Good Things" is decidedly too gentle for a breakup song, later tracks such as "Looking Forward to Looking Back" and "Latest Mistake" show how Mandy can crumble with as much vulnerability as the rest of us. It's almost a relief, then, that the album's closer, the minor-key "Gardenia," depicts her as bruised but surviving by getting to know herself better.

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