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




Eclectic Prog

4.02 | 71 ratings

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5 stars Duncan N Glenday, January 2005 Guy Manning must be sick of being compared to Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson. Imagine a younger Anderson without the cynicism and you'll have a good idea of Guy's delivery. It has a rich mid-ranged timbre and clear enunciation. The vocals are very up-front in the mix and there aren't many long instrumental sections so it is the singing that defines this record. That Anderson connection is reinforced by at least two songs, "Life's Disguises" and "Silent Man", which have a strong folk-rock orientation that recall early '80s accoustic 'Tull.

But this is far from a 'Tull clone. In fact the style of the music ranges from progressive folk through '70s-styled symphonic-progressive, modern hard-edged rock, singer- songwriter ... and there's even some rather heavy pure jazz. While that variety in turn may lead you to fear that the music would be all over the map, rest assured - although Manning delivers a good range of sounds and despite the song-orientation apparent on this album, it's a very cohesive piece.

This concept album addresses the story hinted by the subtitle The Journal Of Abel Mann. Manning's lyrics are more intelligent than most in today's progressive music. None of that esoteric stuff - there's a purpose to each song, and the heartfelt prose is perfectly matched to the music. On Tall Stories For Small Children, Abel Mann is found at the end of his tether and about to kill himself, waiting to jump from the ledge of a building. When he jumps he is raised up and finds himself alone sat at a desk with a journal into which he must write his life story before he can be reborn. On A Matter Of Life & Death, as the subtitle suggests, this is the story written in the Journal It is the writing poignant memoirs on the successes and failures of his life, how he came to be, how he came to the end, how it ended but did not really end, and ultimately and how he was redeemed and reborn.

The strongest piece on this record is probably the 9-minute mini-epic "Out Of My Life," a mostly instrumental piece which is rich in Laura Fowles' wonderful sax. Why does the saxophone gives music an air of mature credibility? Perhaps it's the memories of VdGG which Fowles evokes in many tracks. My favorite track, however, is "River Of Time." It is a soft melodic piece that I played over and over again. Guy's fat-sounding twelve- string guitar accompanies Laura Fowles' whisper-soft and very "girlie" background vocals, while the rich but understated keys, the gentle bass and occasional high- register synth motifs build an elegant, introspective piece that segues nicely into "Silent Man," a more folk-rock oriented piece with fiddle and mandolin.

"Falling Down? Rising Up!" is interesting in that it switches over to pure jazz about half way through, and for about 4 minutes there's an upbeat bass/drum loop with Neil Harris playing piano - positively smashing the keys in a series of staccato chords - then trading the limelight with the sax, Hammond, and vocal choruses.

This is Manning's sixth solo album since 1999. In that time he's also worked on Parallel Or 90 Degrees, two acclaimed The Tangent CDs, and with La Voce Del Vento on one (soon two, we understand) Colossus "Spaghetti Epic" projects. The depth of his experience and creativity is clearly evident on this CD, whose strongest points are the subtle mix of sounds, the richly textured song structures, and above all, the memorable melodies with hooks that sink in so deep that this CD will be in constant rotation in many collections. Highly recommended.

| 5/5 |


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