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Manning - A Matter Of Life & Death (The Journal Of Abel Mann) CD (album) cover

A MATTER OF LIFE & DEATH (THE JOURNAL OF ABEL MANN)

Manning

 

Eclectic Prog

4.04 | 70 ratings

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tszirmay
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars No one seems to have noticed but Guy Manning has very quietly put together a consistent discography, by releasing quality albums year after year that have generated seemingly superlative comments. I guess the PA reviewers are all fans, which is inherently what one is looking for in terms of justified opinion anyway. From his opening solo album back in 1999, his work with Parallel or 90 Degrees and The Tangent, Guy has clearly proven that he is a major progressive force that deserves even more recognition. There are a few characteristics that make him such a compelling raconteur-troubadour, consolidating the fine British folk-rock tradition of musical storytelling (The Strawbs, Al Stewart, early Chris DeBurgh, Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span, Roy Harper, John Martyn, Jethro Tull and Led Zep's folkier side, early Roxy Music etc.). Firstly, he is a creative songwriter, lovingly molding fables with fantasies, owner of a distinctive voice that resonates with credibility (in my opinion somewhat similar to Dave Cousins), master of a multitude of instruments from mandolin to acoustic and electric guitars, seemingly expert on a variety of keyboards and bass, plus he can bash a good drum too. He also likes to throw in an occasional kitchen sink (new category: singer/songwriter/plumber). Secondly, the sound is stellar in terms of clarity and atmosphere: the listener always has the impression that he is among a select audience in a small pub, witness to a very personal almost intimate concert. Thirdly, the artwork is supremely enchanting (Ed Udetsky is hands down the next Roger Dean) and packaging is always first rate. All Manning albums are excellent, not one dud in the pile, so we are definitely in the presence of a special artist. "A Matter of Life and Death" is a prime example of his craft, perhaps even one of his best with some simply scintillating material, starting off with "The Dream", a vibrantly moody opener that projects forcefully a beautifully rich melody, featuring superb sax from Laura Fowles, a primo Moog solo from Andy Tillison and some amazing keys and astute vocals from Guy. "Nobody's Fool" showcases some gentle, even somber themes, strings, acoustic guitar and serene orchestrations, achingly resonant vocals from Monsieur Manning, who has one of those golden voices that one dreams about on those silly Idol shows. Rich, delicate, evocative and oh so expressive, with meaningful lyrics that highlight and adorn the message "Don't Lock your life away, waiting for another days bloom, be somebody's fool", another gentle sax breeze on the way through the door. "Omens" is more up-tempo, with a biting guitar from Gareth Harwood (?) theme that really hits the mark, Guy evoking a distant emotion that exudes deep conviction, "I'm down on my luck again" repeated regularly, a fascinating track that is a real "Keeper". Bluesy guitar outro, applause! "The River of Time" is a mesmerizing piece with stunning female backing vocals, verdant orchestrations and luxuriant atmospheres , with a vocal that winks solidly towards Anderson Tull (high praise) , gently flowing with serene complicity and utter symphonic restraint. Some beautifully ornate piano work adds even more elegance to the endless mood. "Silent Man" is typical of the Manning style, storytelling craftsman with folky overtones, handclaps and an almost Celtic/Irish sing-along feel, replete with a little fiddle from Ian Fairbairn. "Falling Down? Rising Up!" is bravado time, a melancholic outcry where despair duels with hope, the eternal fight to survive the personal battles that make life somewhat difficult at times, with Guy supplying a vision of defiance and courage to "rise up " from the pain. Inspirational music is so rare today; lucky we are to have some fabulous jazzy instrumental breaks to uplift the soul, replete with groovy bass, choppy piano, marshalling drums, swirling organ and that sensual saxophone. "Life Disguises" is a short painful expression of grief that stays simple and fragile, with Guy showing off a little lisp on the repeated use of "Dithguises" (sic), here sounding so much like Cousins, its almost uncanny. "Out of my Life" is the whopping epic, clocking in over 8 minutes, with the bold sax leading the way, Guy's impassioned delivery charming sincerely, while the piano, the sax and the guitars almost remind of early Roxy Music but as the chorus blasts the praise of phrase, the gentleness of the wailing saxophone returns to haunt the spirit. Lyrically, Guy gets angry ("I leave the rotting carcass of my madness in the past") and the extended instrumental blowout feature "tour a tour" driving organ, a series of whistling synthesizer solos and some furiously bold sax forays that rekindle the spirit of Roxy's Andy Mackay (Both Ends Burning). The album bows out with "Midnight Sail", a rabble rousing almost pop song that is immediately ear-friendly with slight hints at "Goodbye Yellow Brick" era Elton John. Wobbly synth solo and honky-tonk piano and some more horny blowing from Laura. Nothing like some good sax before bedtime, Guy... 4.5 Abel Manns
tszirmay | 4/5 |

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