Mandy Barnett has been called “a song’s best friend” and she demonstrates why with the upcoming release of A Nashville Songbook, a multi-genre, multi-generational celebration of songs that made Nashville famous.
“So many songs with a Nashville connection are worldwide country and pop standards, reimagined over-and-over again and as deserving of praise and preservation, I believe, as the Great American Songbook canon,” Barnett said. “A Nashville Songbook is a snapshot of a group of tried-and-true songs from a town that made its mark as one of the most prolific and creative centers of popular music.”
Barnett brings her trademark emotional depth and interpretive skills to the first two tracks released from A Nashville Songbook, the poignant Skeeter Davis cut “The End of the World” and the Kris Kristofferson-penned “Help Me Make It Through The Night,” which has a deeply personal message that is tender, yearning, and timeless.
“Sometimes you just sing a song and it seems to fit like a glove,” Barnett said of the Sammi Smith standard that won two Grammys in 1971. “With songs like this, it is important to capture it in its entirety, recording it in one take – not splicing lines together. The performance as-a-whole is what really matters, not perfection. It’s capturing that emotion in that moment.”
A Nashville Songbook was produced by legendary producer and Melody Place record label President Fred Mollin (Jimmy Webb, Johnny Mathis, Kristofferson). The album will be released this summer by Melody Place and distributed by BMG.
The album, which was inspired by Barnett’s popular road show “The Nashville Songbook,” pays homage to iconic country and pop standards by legendary artists including Ray Price, Roy Orbison, Tammy Wynette and George Jones, Elvis Presley, Hank Williams, Anne Murray, Hank Snow, and Brenda Lee, among others; and written by the likes of Harlan Howard, Boudleaux Bryant, Chips Moman, Orbison, and Williams.
Encouraged by her friend and mentor, Country Music Hall of Fame member Harold Bradley, Barnett first debuted the “Nashville Songbook” repertoire with the Nashville Symphony in 2016 and has since toured it nationally and internationally to standing ovations from fans clamoring for more. Barnett made her New York City cabaret debut in 2019 at Feinstein’s/54 Below, performing her “Nashville Songbook” show including a duet of George and Ira Gershwin’s “How Long Has This Been Going On” with Michael Feinstein.
“Few singers have the gifts inhabiting the soul of Mandy Barnett,” Feinstein said. “Her blessed voice connects to the truth of every note she sings. She’s simply one of my favorite voices.”
Called the “Nashville Sound Chanteuse” (Music Row), Barnett has built a reputation for her commanding voice and unwavering devotion to classic country, R&B, and popular standards and the pioneers who created it.
The Chicago Tribune called Barnett “a torch singer in the grandest sense of the word.” Musical tastemakers praise her world-class vocals: “natural musicality” (People), “big, silky, expressive voice” (Billboard), and “vocal finesse” (New York Times). USA Today called Barnett one of Nashville’s “finest classic country and torch singers,” while the Austin Chronicle noted that when people start talking about Mandy Barnett, “eventually the word ‘amazing’ gets used.”
Her music has been featured in many major film and television soundtracks, including projects starring Clint Eastwood, Tommy Lee Jones, Martin Sheen, Reese Witherspoon, Matthew Broderick, Sigourney Weaver, Ellen Burstyn, Bill Paxton, and SpongeBob SquarePants. “Crazy,” a biopic about the life of guitarist Hank Garland, featured Barnett on screen in the role of Patsy Cline and on the soundtrack. In addition to soundtracks, Barnett often contributes tracks to multi-artist compilation albums.
She has appeared on “The Tonight Show,” “The Late Show,” “CBS Sunday Morning,” PBS’s “Sessions at West 54th,” PBS’s “Bluegrass Underground,” and numerous other programs. A frequent guest at the Grand Ole Opry, Barnett has performed at some of the most esteemed music halls in the U.S. including the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, The Troubadour in Los Angeles, and The Bottom Line in New York City, as well as touring internationally in Ireland, Japan, Sweden, and Switzerland.
A passionate advocate for the music she loves around the globe, Barnett got her formative start in Crossville, TN.
At 5, Barnett began performing at funerals and political rallies. She opened the Cumberland County Fair each year with the national anthem and “God Bless America” and was often referred to as “little Kate Smith.”
Barnett’s mother Betty selflessly cultivated her daughter’s talents by encouraging her to practice and making certain that Barnett always had opportunities to sing. She was a local bookkeeper with a keen ear and impeccable taste leaning toward classic female stylists Tammy Wynette, Patsy Cline, Connie Francis, Brenda Lee, Ella Fitzgerald, Dinah Washington, and Sarah Vaughan. Barnett was enthralled by their individual phrasing, athletic vocals, and emotional punch.
“Along with shaping the golden era of country music, those artists shaped me,” Barnett said with complete candor. “In addition to Patsy Cline and other incredible country artists, I listened to the classic pop and big band vocalists. All of those influences are in me.”
At 10, Barnett won a talent competition at Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, TN, and used the prize money to produce a demo tape. Betty, who made up for her lack of music industry experience with a mother’s determination, sent a copy to WSM’s “Midnite Jamboree.” At 12, Barnett appeared on the venerated show. With that performance and persistence, Barnett’s mother secured Barnett a recording deal with Capitol Records with legendary label figure and producer Jimmy Bowen (Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, George Strait, Reba McEntire, Garth Brooks), and for four years, Barnett commuted between Crossville and Nashville to record and perform, eventually moving to Music City when she was 17.
“I’m lucky I moved to Nashville when I did, as a teenager,” Barnett recalled. ”So many of Music City’s legendary songwriters, artists, producers, and musicians were still alive, and over the years I knew and worked with a good number of them – in the recording studio, on the road, and at the Grand Ole Opry.”
At 18, she left Capitol for an opportunity that would have undone more seasoned singers. Gaylord Entertainment, then the parent company of the Grand Ole Opry and Ryman Auditorium, hired Barnett to take the lead role in the musical production of “Always…Patsy Cline.” Resting on Barnett’s tender shoulders, the show premiered on June 9, 1994 – just days after the Ryman reopened following an extensive $8.5 million refurbishment – to rave reviews and packed seats. Barnett, as Cline, appears on the original cast soundtrack album and is the only actress to have played the role on the historic Ryman stage where Cline’s legend began.
Barnett made the first of many guest appearances on the Grand Ole Opry that year and went on to record a string of acclaimed albums including her self-titled debut for Asylum Records. Sire Records founder Seymour Stein later signed her to the pop label, where she recorded the album, I’ve Got a Right to Cry, produced by Country Music Hall of Fame member and Nashville Sound architect Owen Bradley (Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, Brenda Lee, k.d. lang). The album was named Top Country Album by Rolling Stone in its year of release.
Other recordings followed including her Christmas celebration, Winter Wonderland, a Cline-inspired collection, Sweet Dreams, and I Can’t Stop Loving You: The Songs of Don Gibson, in honor of Gibson, Barnett’s friend and a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame.
In 2018, Barnett opened new avenues for her gifts with Strange Conversation. The album placed Barnett squarely between obscure vintage pop and modern progressive songwriting – including a duet with John Hiatt and a version of Neil Sedaka’s “My World Keeps Slipping Away,” which was pitched directly to Barnett by the songwriting legend himself. The Philadelphia Inquirer, which listed Strange Conversation among the best country/roots albums of 2018, noted that Barnett “takes a disparate collection of pop, soul, and rock numbers and makes a riveting personal statement.”
Her unwavering creative focus is obvious with A Nashville Songbook.
“I need a lyric with depth about the real human experience and a solid melody,” Barnett said. “When I’m singing those songs, I believe what I’m singing – whether the songs are about how life is hard, or love is hard, or just about any other type of challenge or human condition. It feels like home.”