Sideswipe was one of Orange County's truly great alt-rock bands. Few groups anywhere played with such Clash-like intensity and the pop hooks of Crowded House. A tough act to follow, for sure. But since Sideswipe disbanded three years ago, Michelle Mangione—the drummer and half of that band's creative team along with Sally Landers—has forged ahead quite nicely, thank you, with her splendid solo debut, Life Beneath the Sun.
Mangione, who's also performed with saxophonist/political activist Buddy Collette and guitarist Robben Ford, knows how to lay down a solid rhythm. But she's also a versatile, accomplished songwriter and musician, having produced, written and arranged all of Life Beneath the Sun's songs, as well as played percussion, piano, organ and acoustic guitar. Her subject matter draws from personal experience and observation, allowing us a glimpse through her window into weighty topics, including being robbed at gunpoint ("Man With a Gun"), a disheartening conversation with a Vietnam Vet ("America the Blue") and relationship insecurities ("What Should We Do"). Along with her earnestness, though, Mangione lightens up enough to poke fun at her own values in the opening track, "I've Become."
While most of the soundscape is midtempo, acoustic-driven folk-rock, a handful of Mangione's talented friends lend a hand on cello, bass, organ, and steel and electric guitar, adding just enough color to keep things sonically diverse. Her less-aggressive solo style is more reminiscent of Joan Armatrading, or perhaps Toni Childs, than the propulsive rock of Swideswipe, but the common thread is fostering female independence and human compassion. It rings just as true now as then.
Michelle Mangione at Four Olives Caf, 4276 Atlantic Ave., Long Beach, (562) 595-1131; www.fourolivescafe.com. Wed., 6 p.m. Free with $15 minimum purchase. All ages.