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Phil Manzanera - Southern Cross CD (album) cover

SOUTHERN CROSS

Phil Manzanera

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tszirmay
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4 stars Many do not rate this seminal Phil Manzanera album very highly but I believe solidly that it warrants absolutely nil merit, as this is a decisive and divisive course change, veering from dense yet oh so cool rock master stokes like Diamond Head, K-Scope and Listen Now ! But Phil always supplied his muse with parallel projects that encompassed the entire spectrum of progressive rock and his Latin roots never really were espoused beyond a certain guitar machismo. Both his lead and his brilliant rhythm technique are legendary. On Southern Cross" Manzanera delves profoundly into his childhood memories living in Venezuela and Cuba.and keeping those impressions intact and available 35 or so years later to put them on record, well that's a just cause if I ever heard one. It's a radically less progressive soundtrack of life and times and mists of reflective memories, preferring a neo- traditional style, with heavy prog cosmetics nevertheless. Truth is that the melodies here are breathtaking and the instrumental playing superb. The breezy, tropical, hot sensuality is there in droves, aided by some proper British influences of pomp and circumstance. It's dancier, jazzier, funkier and addictive beyond logic, almost like a postcard from the islands never fails to make one smile! But it's still far removed from Roxy Music's glossy romantic rock, closer perhaps to classic Traffic circa The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys. Phil's textured guitar waves its unique magic all over this 'traditional" agenda of tunes and I love it to death, believing him to be a musical icon of the highest order and perhaps the most original guitarist in rock history, many having copied Bryan Ferry but no one ever aped Phil Manzanera! Not even close.

Smartly, a chugging pop-prog ditty shoots this one off, "A Million Reasons Why" is a lovely, breezy , brass-blasted song that has closer links with 10 cc than the Bee Gees, a heavenly chorus and some great singing altogether. (The album has some solid guest vocalists in old partner Tim Finn and the lesser-known soul voice of Gary Dyson, both wail convincingly). This is followed by the luscious and sultry instrumental "Frontera 91", a voiceless reference to the original on Diamond Head on which Robert Wyatt manned the mike seductively. Phil's entrancing guitar enflames the proceedings with bristling virtuosity, screeching, howling and pleading with utter sincerity. Prog heavy, baby!

The brass-funk kicks into elevated gear with "the Great Leveller" a groove-fest that cooks, simmers, boils and erupts, making one want to dance (proggers? Nah!) but certainly join in the rabid chorus, bellowing with some imaginary microphone. Gary Dyson can sing, mates! I am a sucker for well-timed "Hoo-Hoo" choruses big time and the lead axe solo is breathless once again! Infectious, poppy, finger-snapping but sly and sensual also, the segue into "Tambor" is seamless as if a natural fit came to fruition , keeping the samba sambaing with cascades of seductive percussion that would make Carlos Santana blush with 'hermano" envy!

The title track showcases the Roxyman's string massage qualities to the utmost degree, a fluid envelope of various styles and sounds that defy words, an iconoclastic display of controlled virtuosity. Relentlessly romantic and seductive, the atmosphere is sensational, with vibrant rhythms swirling around brass columns, the teamwork between the axe and the sax always was a Roxy hallmark. (Hello Mel Collins!)

The Tim Finn-led "Rich and Poor" is melancholic and painful, poignant with a grudge against the injustices of life, everyone a hero one day, a traitor the next according to some temporary junta. The history of Latin America is not pretty at all, until relatively recently, as people tend to forget that the 70's had the glory days of prog but a General/Colonel mafia ruled every single Latino country without exception (and don't tell me Mexico, okay!). It should come to no surprise then that a track called "Dr Fidel" shows up a bit later in the programme, solidifying the obvious previous statement zealously. But the song is a positive and hopeful testament to the yearnings of a people who have suffered for way too long. As long as there is music and dance, life is worth living. Yeah, corny, I know but a refreshing interlude from the gargantuan epics of sci-fi mumbo-jumbo we prog fans love to devour. Shake, shake! "Verde" gets initially cosmic then seamlessly rhythmic when spearheaded by a slick guitar riff that is expertly simple while Tim wraps his soul around the microphone and things get funky a la Simply Red with blasts of trumpet and horns to add some salsa. Danceable? Yup! The mood gets experimental towards the end, sweltering the pleasure even further. The tremendous "Dr Fidel" is in reference to ultra-nationalist dictator Fidel Castro insurgency against the much loathed Batista regime, proposing a shuffling beat, revolutionary chanting (Oye mi canto, oye mi voz) and some sizzling playing on opulent oboe, rumbling bass and devastating lead guitar. Sonic delirium of the highest order.

"Venceremos" is the highlight track here, a massive serenade of emotion and hope that will have you join the choir "en seguida" (aw, look it up!), wrapped into the thrill of it all. The English lyrics are definitely cheesy by any standard but the Spanish chorus is just sublime but the crowning lead solo is enough to overcome any objections.

I just love the positive vibe emanating from this unloved gem, reverting to it every time the summer sun looms on the horizon. One of those lost wonders that evoke the glow in one's spirit.

4.5 cruces inglesas

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Posted Tuesday, July 03, 2012 | Review Permalink

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