The idea that Mandy Moore shelved her music career for almost 10 years because her “psychologically abusive” then-husband basically shamed her out of it is as heartbreaking as it is infuriating. Moore had proved more than capable of making the tricky transition from her late-’90s bubblegum origins into a mature and understated folk-pop singer, and her 2007 album Wild Hope was a strong showcase for her new sound. It didn’t hurt that she co-wrote many of the songs with collaborators including Lori McKenna and Deb Talan and Steve Tannen of The Weepies—artists who know their way around a melodic hook. Her 2009 follow-up, Amanda Leigh, was similarly well-received, and then her music career went silent.
Thankfully, that wasn’t the end. After shedding the toxic relationship, and presumably the self-doubt that had accumulated, Moore has re-emerged with Silver Landings, a group of 10 new tracks she recorded with Amanda Leigh producer Mike Viola. Though there’s still a genial folk-pop sensibility on these songs, they lean more toward pop, with bright—if sometimes indistinctive—arrangements intended to evoke a windows-down, California kind of vibe. She nails it on “Save a Little for Yourself,” which builds on a foundation of acoustic guitar with muscular electric guitar fills and subtle keyboards that come in on the chorus, along with harmony vocals that sweeten Moore’s clear, lucent voice.
Along with Viola, Moore co-wrote many of the tracks on Silver Landings with Taylor Goldsmith (her current husband), who fronts the California-in-the-’70s rock re-creationists Dawes. It’s surely Goldsmith’s influence that shows through on opener “I’d Rather Lose,” where gleaming electric piano and fat, compressed guitar evoke “Gypsy”-era Fleetwood Mac. Moore sounds more like herself on the folky acoustic sound of “Forgiveness” or the aching, optimistic title track, which closes the album with an understated guitar part, gossamer keyboards and barely-there percussion. Elsewhere, on the more up-tempo “Tryin’ My Best, Los Angeles,” Moore’s voice floats up over a mix of guitar, piano and drums on the chorus as she sings from the perspective of someone bedazzled by the possibilities, and disenchanted with the drawbacks, of life in the City of Angels.
It’s possible that perspective is her own: Moore has said she tends to write confessional, autobiographical songs. That certainly sounds like what’s happening on “Fifteen,” which is how old Moore was when “Candy” flirted with the Top 40 in 1999. Like the first-person protagonist of her song, having a single on the pop charts reshaped Moore’s life in a way that meant missing out on various teenage rites of passage, but resulted in her dream career, first in music, and then acting in movies and television, most recently on the NBC dramedy This Is Us and the 2019 World War II movie Midway. “No regrets, with a few exceptions,” Moore muses, her inflection suggestion the hint of a rueful smile. “Every wrong turn was a right direction.”
Autobiographical or not, it’s accurate, even if it’s fatuous to think that Moore had to endure adversity to get to where she is now—the old “art comes from suffering” put-on. But the important thing is that she’s found her way back. That’s a triumph in its own right, and if Silver Landings isn’t a world-beating collection of songs, it’s a promising return for an artist who is rediscovering her voice, and what she can do with it.