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The Muffins

Canterbury Scene

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The Muffins Manna/Mirage album cover
4.14 | 116 ratings | 20 reviews | 30% 5 stars

Excellent addition to any
prog rock music collection

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Studio Album, released in 1978

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. Monkey with the Golden Eyes (4:02)
2. Hobart Got Burned (5:59)
3. Amelia Earhart (15:47)
4. The Adventures of Captain Boomerang (22:48)

Total Time 48:36

Line-up / Musicians

- Dave Newhouse / piano, organ, piccolo flute, alto & baritone saxophones, bass clarinet, whistle, percussion
- Tom Scott / piccolo, E-flat, alto & C-flutes, soprano, alto & baritone saxophones, B-flat & alto clarinets, oboe, soprano recorder, percussion
- Billy Swan / bass, piano, guitar, percussion
- Paul Sears / drums, gong, xylophone, vibes, percussion, "pots & pans", penny whistle

- Steven Feigenbaum / guitar (3,4)
- John Schmidt / baritone horn, tuba
- Doug Elliot / trombone
- Larry Elliott / trumpet (1)
- Greg Yaskovich / bubble trumpet (4)

Releases information

Artwork: Sunshine with Lynn Pruitt (sculpture)

LP Random Radar Records ‎- RRR 003 (1978, US)

CD Wayside Music Archive Series ‎- WMAS 4 (1991, US)
CD Cuneiform Records ‎- 55004 (1993, US)

Thanks to ProgLucky for the addition
and to Quinino for the last updates
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Buy THE MUFFINS Manna/Mirage Music

THE MUFFINS Manna/Mirage ratings distribution

(116 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(30%)
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(46%)
Good, but non-essential (17%)
Collectors/fans only (7%)
Poor. Only for completionists (1%)

THE MUFFINS Manna/Mirage reviews

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Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by Greger
4 stars The MUFFINS were an American band that existed from 1973-1981. This is a re-release of The MUFFINS debut album from 1978. Their music is a blend of chamber music, experimental progressive rock, avant-garde, Canterbury and Jazz. The musicians are very skilled and they're throwing themselves between these genres with a big doze of humor and playfulness. There are lots of odd rhythms, chord progressions and melodies. Sometimes they reminds of CARAVAN, HATFIELD AND THE NORTH, HENRY COW and SOFT MACHINE. Besides the regular rock instruments there are lots of other instruments such as xylophone, saxophone, clarinets, oboe and flute. There are only four lengthy tracks on this album. All of them are highlights in their own rights. But if I should point out one specific track, it would be the epic closing 23-minutes track "The Adventures of Captain Boomerang". This is a musical adventure from a really interesting band from the past.
Review by Sean Trane
4 stars 4.5 stars really!!!

Formed in Washington DC, The Muffins had started in 73 as a trio with Newhouse (keys winds) as their leader, and were joined by Scott (winds) in late 74 and recorded a few sessions (which will be later released by Cuneiform under the name Chronometer) but it wasn't until 78 that they recorded their first proper album on a small Wayside Record label..

The least we can say is that The Muffins were heavily biased to Canterbury-sounds as their album is a mix of Soft Hatfield Health crossed with Crimsonic RIO, even if the two don't entwine as much as interact. Generally the two styles succeed each other and much of the greatness of this album is the transitions from one to the other. The first side of the album is made of three excellent tracks: Golden Eyes start as a gentle National North but ends quite abruptly, segueing directly into a free improv (not unlike what Keith Tippett has done with Ovary Lodge) of Hobart, before a Ratledgian electric piano pulls the track into Kent territory, with some of the wildest and most energetic moments of Canterbury ever, throwing chills down your spine as Scott and Newhouse just blow their lungs into their respective wind instruments. Fantastic, terrific, but nothing compared with the 16-min Amelia Earhart. Starting out on an incredibly low percussion intro (much like Crimson's LTIA), the track constantly rolls back and forth between Canterbury, even pulling a spacey Gong interlude midway through.

And this is even without having heard the 22-min opus on the flipside. However for some reasons The Muffins cannot equal the perfect transitions and balance that they had achieved on the other wax slab. Overall, I'd say this album has Canterbury outlasting RIO/improv by 3 to 1, but it won't always be the case later.

The band would then meet one of the major influences Fred Frith (of Henry Cow fame) once he moved to New York and they backed him up in his solo album Gravity and in turn would produce their second album. Getting back to this debut album, this is one of the best US albums of the 70's as far as prog is concerned, leaving JR/F out.

Review by Mellotron Storm
4 stars I got very interested in this band after hearing one of their fantastic songs on the "After The Storm" record that was to aid victims of Hurricane Katrina. It was actually a song off their "Bandwidth" record, but I thought I would start here, from the beginning. What I enjoy most about this band is listening to all the different sounds they produce. The woodwind and brass instruments, whistles, piano, organ, aboe, percussion, xylophone, vibes and on and on. They thank Kit Watkins from HAPPY THE MAN for technical help and advice. I would describe their sound as a cross between HATFIELD AND THE NORTH, SOFT MACHINE, HENRY COW and FRANK ZAPPA.

"Monkey With The Golden Eyes" opens with various sounds playing both slowly and pleasantly before an outbreak 1 1/2 minutes in as xylophone, sax and organ in particular build in sound. This song blends into "Hobart Got Burned" with it's all over the place drumming and different dissonant sounds. An outbreak 2 minutes in before returning to original soundscape. We get a melody before 3 1/2 minutes. This is really cool as drums and horns dominate, including some screaming sax that comes and goes. "Amelia Earhart" is truly an amazing track. It opens with about 1 1/2 minutes of atmosphere including percussion and whistles etc. before piano, drums and bass create a nice melody. Horns join in too. Guitar arrives 2 1/2 minutes in as the sound changes. Flute 2 minutes after that and light drums. Guitar is back after 5 1/2 minutes. Another change 7 1/2 minutes as horns and drums become prominant. A great uptempo passage 10 1/2 minutes in before we get an incredible atmospheric ending that reminds me of the intro and lasts almost 4 minutes ! The flute is a nice touch.

"The Adventures Of Captain Boomerang" was originally a side long suite at over 22 minutes. The 1 minute intro is mellow as some beautiful sax melodies are followed with drums. The band shouts "Captain Boomerang" a couple of times after 5 minutes. The song settles down before 10 minutes. Some nice piano 12 minutes in as drums and horns join in. The song pretty much stops 15 minutes in and restarts with clarinet and piano, at which point as I write this, the big red sun is sinking below the mountains. Dissonant sounds 17 1/2 minutes in as the sun has set. The sound is building including some scorching sax. Xylophone before 20 minutes as piano and drums come in a minute later, and we are cooking with an uptempo ending.

Chris Cutler said that this band should be included with the great bands of the seventies. These guys can play folks. A must have for progressive music fans, especially those leaning to the Jazz / Canterbury / Rio / Avant style of music.

Review by Bj-1
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars The Muffins is an excellent Canterbury quartet with moderate RIO leanings in a typical Soft Machine, Henry Cow and Hatfield and the North fashion. This was long a highly anticipated release for me before finally getting my hands on it, and I can safely say that I wasn't disappointed at all from my first listen on it and until now. The songs are long and adventurous and goes through several different climaxes and themes with a good melodic balance. Although the last two tracks goes well over the 15-minute mark, they are never boring and bursts with charming, inspired and entertaining passages with few weaker moments. The musicianship is very good and the musicians never misses a beat although the music get's fairly challenging technically at times. There also is a great range of instruments used here in addition to the standard bass/guitar/drums and keys; sax, various wind instruments and percussions is also present and that adds a somewhat eclectic and complete touch to the music. But while the arrangements flows well and the musicianship is nothing to complain about, I must notify that the production quality of the album is a bit raw and thin to recieve a perfect 5* rating for me. It would have definitely improved the album a bit with a fuller and warmer sound quality, but focusing on the excellent music only most likely makes you ignore that quite easily.

Overall, I can safely say that this is a very charming and adventurous release that should easily appeal to fans of Henry Cow, Soft Machine or Hatfield and the North. Musically complex with a good flow to it with well-thinked arrangements that is interesting to listen to all the way through with a nice typical humoristic touch to them. Other than a few weaker (but not bad) moments and a somewhat thin production quality, this is an essential for it's genre. 4.5/5

Review by Cesar Inca
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars After struggling for 5 years in the marginal field of avant-rock, the magnificent USA ensemble The Muffins managed to release their debut album "Manna/Mirage" in 1978. at the time, the band was slightly diminished as a quartet without the participation of a permanent guitar player in its line-up, so they had to use an occasional guest for this album (plus a few other guests on wind instruments), but this factor in no way led to a decay in the band members' creativity or a decrease in their performing energy. "Manna/Mirage" is an amazing Canterbury-meets-RIO album that makes the band behind it totally worthy of all the praise that deservedly goes to bands from the other side of the Atlantic such as Soft Machine, Hatfield & The North, Henry Cow, Nucleus and Matching Mole. All us prog collectors that have been appreciating the work of American bands such as However, Happy The Man, Rascal Reporters and French TV from the late 70s and beyond have good reason to recognize both a foundation and a precedent in the material comprised in "Manna/Mirage". I said the expression "Canterbury-meets-RIO" in an earlier sentence, but the main fact is that The Muffins' guys are especially connected to the Canterbury trend and happen to be openly friendly with the sonic deconstructive strategies rooted in the RIO ideology: that is more accurate, all in all. There are also traces of influences from Zappa's jazzier side, as well as classic items of 70s American fusion - Weather Report, a bit of Herbie Hancock, perhaps - but essentially, the band's sound is pretty much England-orientated. The lack of a permanent guitarist (who also doubled on violin) makes it necessary that Dave Newhouse's keyboard inputs take center stage in the tracks' developments, with Tom Scott absorbing lots of room for his sax/clarinet/flute interventions. As a result of this, the jazzy factor in The Muffins' quintessence becomes undeniably enhanced. The opener 'Monkey With The Golden Eyes' delivers 4 minutes of autumnal, minimalistic textures mostly based on eerie electric piano washes and dreamy lines performed on various woodwinds. This contemplative introduction ends with a magical climax that sets an atmosphere of expectation for the remaining repertoire, whose graceful surprise starts with the free-form adventures that mark the beginning of 'Hobart Got Burned', a true celebration of chaos in a disjointed conjuncture. Once a more cohesive rhythm structure is settled in, things become vibrant and engaging while bearing a similar air to that of Soft Machine's fourth and fifth albums. Now... this is the very essence of The Muffins we are seeing through. Next is 'Amelia Earhart', which starts with a brief excursion of tonal and concrete percussions, then shifts to a warm display of nostalgic ambiences that might as well sound to our ears like a hybrid of Gilgamesh and Weather Report. Bassist Billy Swan finds a couple of spaces to shine individually in a very Hopper-esque way among the explicitly playful vibe that the musicians are indulging into at the moment. Somewhere in the middle there is a languid section that points at impending danger and silent immensity - clearly, an allusion to Mrs. Earhart's tragedy. The whole second half of the album is occupied by the monster track 'The Adventures Of Captain Boomerang (For Mike Forrester)', a 22+ minute journey that completes the band's vision quite fairly. Lots of melodic developments and arrangements bear moods that are by now recognizable, but there are also signals of Zappa-esque Dadaistic tricks, which make the whole musical trip an enhanced adventure. Despite the relevance of the restless motif shifts, the band avoids the resource of dramatic contrast consistently - and that is a very clever thing, indeed. Cheers to them! The track's last passage if filled with a certain tension which ultimately serves to elaborate an effective abrupt ending. So, my final balance for this album is very good: "Manna/Mirage" is a wonderful progressive effort that should not be ignored or overlooked. Luckily, this was not the last of this obscure band, since in the early years of the new millennium they have released great (or even greater) albums - anyway, those will be a matter for other reviews.
Review by SaltyJon
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars This album, like Henry Cow's Legend, really seems to walk the line between Canterbury scene's style and avant-garde rock. It's similar to that album in another couple ways, in that it's the band's debut and it's an incredibly great, innovative and complex album. I was drawn into the music when I read in reviews how it reminded people of a mixture of RIO/Avant and the Canterbury scene, as I love both of those genres. I'm very glad I listened to people and checked this one out.

The album starts off slowly and quietly, eventually building up over the course of the first track, adding layer after layer of instruments to the great atmosphere, bringing to mind for me the sound of National Health, with a hint of Frank Zappa.

Then, at the outbreak of the second track, things take a turn to the avant-garde side, with some seemingly free sounds reminding me of some of Henry Cow's improvisational moments. It seems to me as if the band wanted to play with contrasts, going from calm and quiet to loud and complex, back and forth, over the course of the album. Near two and a half minutes into the second track we get some echoing sax lines, playing over the interesting drum patterns. At three minutes the keyboards join in and present a little section of melody and togetherness. Nearly four minutes in I'm strongly reminded of Dave Stewart's playing in Egg. The track from this point on continues on with the same general course it's currently taking, a nice jazzy avant tune.

Next up is the album's first epic track, "Amelia Earhart". The track starts off with some light and almost mysterious sounds, mainly percussions and some sort of whistle, continuing on like this for around a minute and a half. The rest of the band joins in at this point where we're presented with a more normally structured section of music. At about two and a half minutes in the song gets quieter again and builds quickly, with fast breaks into sections led by the reeds, speeding up after three minutes for a while as the bassist goes a bit wild and the sax floats on top of the maelstrom of drums and bass below. The piece calms down again some after four minutes. The song is all over the place, and manages to go all over the place without being tiring or sounding contrived. About five and a half minutes in we get some nice fuzzy bass, always a great thing to add in. The xylophone and piano in the background fade into mainly guitar and keys, then what sounds like bass clarinet and maybe harp join in to the fun. We get a (very) quick break with what sounds like a dog toy, then another jazzy section comes along led by saxophone and a screaming something in the background. After a short while like this we return to the earlier bass and keys led melody with the excellent drumming. Near eight and a half minutes in we get a nice little section with more echoing sax lines, followed by a playful section of interplay between the bass running up and down and the flutes answering in a quirky little dissonant way. The flutes (or whatever wind instruments are present) continue on with their little bit as the band plays under them for a while. Things build back up at ten and a half minutes and we get some fun sax lines and then a more calm section with what sounds like a slide whistle put through some computer effects, and later some flute to take us out of the track. The band's playful instrumentals in this track are really great.

Finally, we come to the beast which is the side long epic "The Adventures of Captain Boomerang". This is another great track (though all the tracks here are great, if I may say so). We get about a minute of atmosphere before the sax, bass, drums and others join in to get things moving. The track breaks into some great complex bits with funny interplay between instruments/wordless vocals playing back and forth with various percussions, repeating each others' rhythms. At three minutes we get some "classic" jazz drums for a short while before they go crazy again. The band is really enjoying themselves with this album. Again, they manage to make the shifts back and forth from one melody/rhythmic idea to another throughout the track sound good. This piece overall reminds me pretty strongly of National Health's jazzier moments. Rather than give a minute by minute breakdown like I did for the beginning of the track and the entirety of the other three, I'll just mention that it has a lot of warm sections with the lush, Canterburian keyboards, some more "out there" sections with squeaking sax, some heavily Zappa-inspired sections with xylophone, and just about everything in between the two.

This band and this album are a real treasure to the music scene. They're one of those bands which can mix jazz, Canterbury quirkiness, and avant-garde rock into something with the best elements of all three and, for me, none of the pitfalls. For fans of any of those genres, or specifically for albums like Henry Cow's Legend, National Health's albums, and Frank Zappa's jazzier output (The Grand Wazoo and Waka/Jawaka especially), you can't go wrong with this. I realize I got a bit wordy with the review and might seem as if I was just rambling on and on and on, but I hope I got across the idea that I think it's a top notch album that belongs in just about every prog collection. A very strong four star rating from me, would be 4.5 if we had half stars.

Review by Evolver
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Crossover & JR/F/Canterbury Teams
5 stars So this is American Canterbury music? I like it.

Somewhere between National Health, Soft Machine, Henry Cow, and the original Mothers Of Invention lies the sound of this album by The Muffins. The music is primarily played by four core multi-instrumentalists: Billy Swan, Paul Sears, Tom Scott and Dave Newhouse (of course it helps to let Wayside Music/Cuneiform Records owner Steve Feigenbaum play on the album). The result is a wonderful journey through sometimes improvised, sometimes tightly written, jazzy rock music.

All four pieces are truly pieces of ear candy, and essential for any collector of the Canterbury Scene genre. Really, the only flaw I find is that even on the CD (I have the Wayside 1991 release), the recording quality is rough. It sounds more like a nineteen sixties album than a seventies recording.

But even with the sound problems, I'd call it a masterpiece. 4.5 stars, rounded up.

Review by zravkapt
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars The Muffins are an American Canterbury group from Washington, DC. This is their first album although they had been around already for a few years. The sound is heavily influenced by both Soft Machine and Frank Zappa, and even a little bit of Henry Cow as well. This is guitarless instrumental Canterbury with lots of wind instruments. Due to the low budget recording, this album sometimes sounds more like a jazz record from the 1960s rather than a rock record from the late 1970s. Although both the sound and songs appear kind of dated for something released in 1978, it also adds a charm to the album. Sometimes less is more.

Manna/Mirage features just four tracks with one of them being a side-long epic, one of the better Canterbury epics in fact. "Monkey With The Golden Eyes" starts out like Karl Jenkins-era Soft Machine with electric piano and some flute. Some oboe(?) joins in playing lovely melodies. Later some marimba(?). Slowly some trippy organ enters the scene. The rest of the song is both dissonant and melodic. "Hobart Got Burned" continues with the drone that ends "Monkey..." Then it goes into something similar to Henry Cow in improvisation mode. After a few minutes of that the music becomes more similar to Soft Machine with the electric piano figure and awesome fuzz-bass.

After the first two shorter songs comes the two epics of the album. "Amelia Earhart" is an almost 16 minute long tour de force of Canterbury music. It starts out with some kind of tuned percussion at low volume (think of the beginning to LTIA Pt. 1). Some random drums and other sounds can be heard before the music stops and then returns as great Canterbury jamming featuring great soloing on sax. Changes to another section featuring phased electric piano and start/stop playing. Then a great wah-bass solo. Later on some flute soloing. Afterwards some great fuzz-bass from a fuzz box that was malfunctioning I believe.

The sounds of people making noises at one point. I love the phased electric piano after 8 minutes. Goes through a few different sections; some very jazzy, some parts are reprised from earlier. After 11 minutes it gets spacey and minimalistic with a repeated bass note. Some flute later. This part continues until the end. The almost 23 minute "Adventures Of Captain Boomerang" opens in an orchestral Canterbury mood. When the drums come in it goes into Canterbury style jazz-rock. After 2 minutes you hear random sounds along with start/stop playing. At one point you hear people shouting "Captain Boomerang!" After 7 minutes is some great wah-bass.

As to be expected, this epic changes a lot. It gets almost bluesy in a Zappaesque way around 8 1/2 minutes. Around 11 minutes is some awesome phased bass which plays a melody. There seems to be an edit right after that part where a modified organ sounds like a synth. Later on some wind sounds and flute in the distance. More wind sounds and a great altered wind instrument later on. More synth like soloing and great rhythm section towards the end. This is some terrific Canterbury, although the next album (which I haven't heard) is supposed to be more avant-prog. Manna/Mirage is a unique sounding album that fans of Canterbury should hear. 4 stars.

Review by Warthur
4 stars The Muffins played a deliberately Canterbury-influenced style of music, which on this album approaches the standards of Hatfield and the North and other giants of the genre. With plentiful references to more mainstream varieties of jazz, the band clearly possess chops aplenty; rather than simply being a clone band mimicing their betters simply because that's all they know how to do, they're very obviously a set of capable jazz players who play in this mode because they have a genuine passion for it. More mellow and laid back than many of their British contemporaries, the Muffins sound on here reminds me a little of a significantly more interesting and adventurous Gilgamesh.
Review by VanVanVan
4 stars I first heard about The Muffins as the backing band for one half of Fred Frith's solo album "Gravity." As I very much enjoyed that album, this one seemed like a natural choice to check out. I will confess, however, that "Manna/Mirage" was not entirely what I was expecting. Simply due to their association with Frith, I was assuming that this would be more or less a straightforward RIO affair. While there are elements of that sound here, they're crossed into the Canterbury scene, and to my ears this album sounds much more like the latter than the former.

"Monkey With The Golden Eyes" is the first track here, and it begins the album on a decidedly jazzy note, with laid back, soothing keyboards setting the stage behind an equally tranquil flute part. What I believe is an oboe makes an appearance as well, dueting briefly with the flute before a whole host of different horns come in, slowly layering on top of one another until, in the final minute of the track, all the instruments come together to create a sedate, peaceful blend of sound. Easily the most straightforward track on the album, "Monkey With The Golden Eyes" provides a nice, accessible opening for the album, though it doesn't really give a great representation about what's coming next.

That fact is made immediately apparent from the opening notes of "Hobart Got Burned," which dismisses the peaceful sounds of the opener in favor of a dissonant horn part, very reminiscent of Henry Cow's "Western Culture." This track also sounds far more improvisation-based than "Monkey?" with a very open structure filled by wild drumming and brief, punctuated horn bursts. Midway through the track, however, keyboards and bass enter, and the track enters a much more composed section, falling back into rhythmic normalcy and taking on a kind of demented carnival feel. The horn bursts don't stop, however, with plenty of howling solos wailing over the backbone the piano and bass are laying down. A great, experimental track, "Hobart Got Burned" is much more interesting to me than "Monkey?" and proves that The Muffins can innovate with the best of them.

"Amelia Earhart" is the first of the two long tracks that finish the album. Beginning with very minimalist blend of percussion and some very faint playing from the winds, the track really kicks off at about 2 minutes in, when the keyboard begins a rather cheerful chord progression. Horns add to the sound, playing an energetic repeating line over the keyboard and giving the track a very hopeful feel. Eventually the track drops back into a more improvisational mode, with really excellent drumming providing a background for a variety of instruments to solo over. The winds and especially the flute give the track a very interesting sound, and provide a nice contrast when an electric guitar comes in and begins its own solo. A very cool low brass section follows this, followed itself by a huge variety of instruments, including something that sounds like a train whistle. With about four minutes left in the track the pace slows down a little bit; the solos stop and the track takes on a floaty, almost ambient quality. Low, throbbing bass and a psychedelic flute part give this last section of the track an amazing, dream-like feeling that serves as a wonderful outtro to an otherwise wildly energetic piece of music.

It's a bold move to follow up a track as good as "Amelia Earhart" with another epic, but "The Adventures of Captain Boomerang" tries to do just that, clocking in at a hefty 23 minutes. It begins in much the same way "Amelia?" ended, with dreamy wind parts and an overall peaceful feel. The pace quickens, however, with a bombastic horn section that recalls in equal parts big band music and Henry Cow. This very jazzy motif is interspersed with more experimental sections consisting of minimal sound effects and percussion. Both of these themes, however, eventually fall away, and the track enters another long period of instrumental soloing. Despite the avant-garde sections earlier in the track, this section of "Captain Boomerang" is probably the least avant section on the album, and the one that's most akin to the more mainstream Canterbury scene. At about 12 minutes in the energy wanes a little bit, moving again into a spacier feel that slowly builds back up in intensity before dropping away again to almost nothing. A very, very faint wind part plays over some even fainter swooshing sounds, and when keyboard and horns enter again they're markedly more subdued, playing in a way that's rather reminiscent of the peaceful, smoky jazz of the first track. Another very minimal, avant garde-section follows, with long, atonal horn drones and high-pitched squealing from either horns or keyboards. Slowly, a more conventional keyboard part enters into this soundscape, and with it come more horn solos. The track ends with several wild horn parts merging into one, until finally the track ends on a sudden, squeaky chord. "The Adventures of Captain Boomerang" is a very long track that feels even longer, but somehow that manages to avoid being a bad thing. Interesting playing and varied themes make for interesting listening throughout, with hardly a bad moment over the entire, massive span of the piece.

So this is a great album, no doubt. To be honest, I can't point to any specific thing that prevents this from being a five star album; it just feels like it falls a bit short, and when I'm deciding between four and five stars I tend to trust my gut and err low. Nonetheless, this is a very good album and a worthy listen for anyone who wants to hear some off-kilter, experimental psych-jazz from the late 70s. Great stuff.


Review by chamberry
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars It's a dark Canterbury Scene-like album, compared to what's usually heard in other acts, like Caravan, Supersister or early Soft Machine. The music here sounds riskier too with tight arrangements and mindf*cking compositions. Not one song is wasted in idle play and nothing sounds forced either. As a whole the album flows just perfectly and it gets more intense as the album progresses.

This, for me, is one of the top albums from the wide-ranging Canterbury Scene and one of the more cohesively-sound albums from the Avant-prog tag (like early Henry Cow, but smoother). Hell! It's one of the best prog albums of the late 70's... Look. Just get it, man!

Review by apps79
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
3 stars In 1976 Michael Zentner and Stuart Abramowitz decided to leave The Muffins and the remaining trio recruited talented drummer Paul Sears.Four years after their formation the band still struggled to find some success, even if they had built an underground following in the narrow limits of the Maryland area.In 1977 the quartet decided to move to a house in Rockville, which they transformed into their own studio.Next step was to establish their own record label, thus Random Radar Records was born with the help of Steve Feigenbaum, future leader of Cuneiform Records.Their debut was eventually in the making at the Catch-A-Buzz Studio with four members playing multiple instruments and receiving help by Steve Feigenbaum on guitar, Doug Elliot on trombone, Larry Elliot and Greg Yaskovich on trumpet and John Schmidt on horns.It was entitled ''Manna mirage'', released in 1978.

The short opener ''Monkey with the golden eyes'' followed the trends of laid-back Canterbury Prog ala CARAVAN/NATIONAL HEALTH with smooth electric piano, melodic flutes, some sax breaks and great clarinet parts, developing into a melancholic outro.For half of its part ''Hobart got burned'' sounds like a hybrid of Experimental Rock and R.I.O. with torturing saxes, dissonant bass lines and abstract drumming, but the after-middle offering is a masterful, dramatic, instrumental Progressive Rock with bombastic saxes, furious electric piano and a powerful rhythm section, among the best segments ever composed by the group, with strong VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR and SOFT MACHINE influences.Closing side A is the 16-min. ''Amelia Earhart'', dedicated to the first ever female aviator to fly across the Atlantic Ocean.Again the Canterbury inspirations are more than apparent through the jazzy rhythm sction, the growing and nervous keyboard plays and the unexpected sax breaks.''Amelia Earhart'' will eventually present The Muffins' beloved style in full display.This is complex, jazzy Progressive Rock with saxes, flutes and electric piano in evidence, passing though odd meters, dreamy textures, bombastic interplays and atonal soundscapes, even featuring a hypnotic, ambiental section towards the end with somber saxes and trippy synthesizers.

Very much known for their long, epic instrumentals, The Muffins' debut could not be an exception.''The adventures of Captain Boomerang'' captures the whole flipside of the original vinyl, being another example of over-the-top instrumental Prog with interesting moves, stunning interplays and influences from Jazz, R.I.O. and Canterbury Fusion.This time their style is flavored with pure passages coming from Electric Jazz, led by saxes and piano, but the sound is now more balanced, including relaxed flute-driven themes and atmospheric keyboard soundscapes.The vast majority though is driven by the passion of the band for complex and adventurous music.So this comes as another proposal of highly technical Progressive Rock with numerous shifting tempos, sharp Canterbury-styled interplays, Fusion instrumental battles and excessive sax soloing.The result is often too chaotic, but the tons of changing climates with the superb instrumental lines are definitely a thing to admire.

''Manna mirage'' belongs among the very good albums of late-70's Progressive Rock coming from the States.File next to other quirky US Prog groups such as HOWEVER and FRENCH TV, a strongly recommended album...3.5 stars.

Review by ALotOfBottle
5 stars The Muffins were formed in 1973, in Washington D. C., soon after a keyboardist and saxophonist Dave Newhouse, a guitarist Michael Zentner, and a bassist Billy Swann found a common unorthodox and anti-commercial approach to music. The group, however, remained nameless until a few months later when they named themselves The Muffins, allegedly after one friend of theirs shouted, "The muffins are here!" while bringing them blueberry muffins and more importantly giving an idea for the name of the band. One year after their formation, they were joined by Thomas Scott, a saxophonist with a big-band background. In 1975, Stuart Abramowitz on drums joined, only to leave one year later with Michael Zentner. While playing a concert in 1976, they stumbled upon a drummer Paul Sears, who stayed in the band. The Muffins founded their own independent recording label, Random Radar Records, under which they released their debut album, Manna/Mirage, in 1978.

With influences of acts such as Hatfield and the North, Henry Cow, National Health, Soft Machine, Frank Zappa's Mothers Of Invention, and even Caravan, The Muffins have shaped their own, distinctive Canterbury scene-inspired style. Although the United States has always been far from being the heartland of the subgenre and recognized it relatively late, the group's music sounds incredibly natural and authentic. Characterized by strong emphasis put on improvisation, The Muffins go far beyond being just another Canterbury-tinged jam band. The extensive use of woodwind instruments such as clarinets, flutes, recorders, and oboes, rather than brass winds, gives the band a varied, unique, almost chamber-like sound, at times reminiscent of Henry Cow's Legend. Keyboard instruments also play a prominent role with smooth, dreamy Fender Rhodes electric piano, reminiscent of Dave Stewart and Tim Hodgkinson-inspired Farfisa organ. Free jazz passages, very much in the vein of Sun Ra or Albert Ayler, are also common, enriching the album with even more of a diverse, varied style. In short: Manna/Mirage is a perfectly balanced mélange between classy avant-garde progressive rock and jazz-influenced Canterbury sound.

The album opens with "Monkey with the Golden Eyes". A calm repeating passage on electric piano is supported by a great interplay of flute and clarinet. Gradually, more instruments are added - xylophone, drums, organ, resulting in an almost ambient texture. In the beginning, "Hobart Got Burned" features just a little part of the previous track until it loses itself in chaotic, quirky, free-form mayhem. At one point, all of the instruments participating in the madness meet and, as if finally entering the same alley, present a theme which would not be out of place on an album by Hatfield and the North. Side One closes with the 15-minute "Amelia Earhart". The piece starts out with mystic, meditative sounds of a wide plethora of percussion instruments, which dissolve into a merry Caravan-like melody. Later, the listener encounters a brief free passage and various different segments of the piece, perfectly displaying the flawless work of every instrument in different musical circumstances. Side Two is fully occupied by a nearly 23-minute suite "The Adventures Of Captain Boomerang". The track begins with an interaction of woodwind instruments supplemented by accompaniment on Fender Rhodes. Then, a more energetic, louder motif dominated by saxophones kicks in. What follows is really inexplicable. Let me just say that the piece is dripping with complex arrangements, contrasted segments, dynamically, rhythmically, and instrumentally varied parts, numerous different themes, lengthy improvisational passages, and proficient instrumental work. The Muffins seem to have a well-thought plan for every second of the suite and make use of their recording time perfectly.

Manna/Mirage is an absolutely exceptional record in the history of the Canterbury scene. While in 1978, its sound might have radically drifted towards jazz fusion, this one American band, that seemingly appeared out of nowhere, skillfully carries on traditions set by bands such as Henry Cow, Soft Machine, and Hatfield and the North. The release is incredibly consistent, mature, and most of all deeply fascinating. A true gem of the Canterbury scene. Highly recommended!

Review by BrufordFreak
COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars America's only entry into the Canterbury style of music issued their debut in 1978 as the real Canterbury movement was fizzling out and/or filtering into other realms (jazz, new age, avant, eclectic, etc.). Still, they contributed a well-acclaimed gem in the true Canterbury style. Though I'm familiar with this album after repeated listenings to recognize each song and smile, I do not seem to be able to recall the Muffins sound when I am away from their music--when I am just trying to conjure up the "essence" of the band and their sound. All nice music, eminently listenable--and enjoyable--just, for some reason, not memorable. This is why this album isn't higher in my personal favorites. I remember that "Hobart Got Burned" (5:56) is an example of the band venturing off into the more challenging and dissonant realms of free jazz--though it does come together in a somewhat cohesive flow for the second half. (8/10)

Favorite songs: 4. "The Adventures of Captain Boomerang" (22:48) (38/45); 1. "Monkey with Golden Eyes" (4:02) (9/10), and; 3. "Amelia Earhart" (15:45) (25.5/30).

Four stars; an excellent addition to any prog lover's music collection. I am sure that this album would be an eminently more enjoyable listening experience for fans coming from (or for) a true jazz background, as there is a lot of that. The performances are all exquisite: high in technical skill as well tightly orchestrated.

Review by Progfan97402
5 stars Why did it take my until now to buy anything from the Muffins? It's a huge regret as I've been aware of these guys since 1996. I now have a copy of their debut LP Manna/Mirage and what an album it is! The groups consisted of Dave Newhouse, Paul Sears, Billy Swann, and Tom Scott, and they hailed from Silver Spring, Maryland, outside of Washington, DC. Comedian Lewis Black also hailed from Silver Spring, but of course he has nothing to do with prog rock (I don't know what kind of music he's into), he's a comedian who prefers the environs of New York City. Most importantly, Steve Feigenbaum hails from there, as he founded Random Radar Records, later on Wayside Music, and Random Radar's successor Cuneiform Records. Unsurprisingly The Muffins recorded for Random Radar, and that label pretty much served the same purpose as Cuneiform. So little surprise that Cuneiform would reissues their back catalog and previously unreleased archival material in the 1990s, as well as new reunion releases.

I have most of the major UK Canterbury releases, but I am totally blown away one of the best examples of the Canterbury style should be the Muffins given their non-UK origins, and the fact American bands playing prog rock of any style are frequently accused of being nothing more than pale copycats. Dave Newhouse and the boys certainly did their homework and actually created a masterpiece sure the rival even the UK classics. Since they knew they would only by fooling themselves by imitating British accents (Robert Wyatt and Richard Sinclair never hid their British accent while singing), they stuck to being an all-instrumental band, with the exception of one squeely vocal part that goes "Captain Boomerang" (a DC Comics villain) on "The Adventures of Captain Boomerang (for Mike Forrester)" (who's this Mike Forrester? Michael Forrester the British WWII- era Naval officer? Not sure). "Monkey With the Golden Eyes" has a bit of that laid-back Hatfield & the North feel to it, and then "Hobart Got Burned" is the next piece. Here you get treated with lots of squeaky saxes, sounding like the band gone totally RIO on us, reminding me of the more "out there" sections of Henry Cow's Leg-End. Then out of nowhere comes this wonderful electric piano riff with some great spacy sax solos over it. "Amelia Eahart" continues in that Hatfield & the North and Soft Machine vein, but out of nowhere the band suddenly goes into Gong territory complete with glissando guitar, after a bit then this really eerie, droning organ goes on for the next couple of minutes before it fades out. Finally you get the side- length "The Adventures of Captain Boomerang (for Mike Forrester). They really go to town on this piece, going through many different changes and moods, but towards the end they slow down, like they finally ran out of energy, but suddenly it ends with a bang with some great Canterbury-type organ soloing.

Also it needs to be pointed out what an amazing drummer Paul Sears is! He certainly is one of the great, unrecognized drummers out there. I am not a musician so I can't always judge the talents of band members (other than that of KISS who stick to cliched rock guitar, drums and lyrics), but Sears really does some amazing and complex drumming and make it seem so effortless! He doesn't get the recognition of say, Bruford, or Pierre Moerlen, or Pip Pyle, but his playing is certainly up there with the best!

Listening to this album, you'd swear that 1978 was the height of progressive rock, when in fact it's been a pretty disappointing year, at least for the major acts (Love Beach being the most obvious example). This was, after all, the US being caught up in disco (Saturday Night Fever helped disco receive even more mainstream acceptance) and the UK caught up in punk (both which would implode by 1980). Clear that Newhouse & the boys were totally oblivious about the less-than-favorable musical landscape of 1978, and stuck to their guns and recorded and released a masterpiece. Helps that they had a local label to release this. Truly an album that is completely essential to your collection. While Prog Archives discourages five star ratings so you can be encouraged to be more objective, this album truly deserves it!

Review by siLLy puPPy
5 stars The USA didn't pump out the legions of classic progressive rock acts even close to the same level as the nations all around Europe but there were a few exceptions of course. Frank Zappa along with the Mothers of Invention and Captain Beefheart hitting the scene before the prog scene fully hit and whose influences were stealthily intertwined with all the 70s greats, are timeless legends. As the prog scene hit however, the US was noticeably absent in its formidable output in the classic years. While a few bands like Kansas, Utopia and Zappa himself would reach worldwide recognition, most of the American prog bands were relegated to the obscurity bins only to be rediscovered decades later. Good examples are The Residents, Yezda Urfa, Mirthrandir and Happy The Man. Another band that emerged in during the heyday of 1973 was the Washington DC based THE MUFFINS who joined the ranks of other non- English bands such as Cos, Moving Gelatine Plates and Supersister in incorporating the Canterbury prog sound into their musical compositional style.

While many albums have been released by THE MUFFINS over the ensuing decades, only this debut MANNA / MIRAGE was released while they were an active band with the rest finding themselves released as archival artifacts. THE MUFFINS (despite the stupid band name) were one of the few resolute acts that bucked the trend of more accessible music and delved into the lengthy complexities of the most developed prog years. By adopting the compositional structures and timbres of Caravan, Soft Machine and Hatfield & The North's Canterbury sound and mixing it with avant-garde freeform jazz and progressive rock fusion with nods to the Rock In Opposition avant-prog style of Henry Cow, THE MUFFINS crafted out their own unique style of extended instrumental prog workouts that belies the time they existed. If only they had emerged and released their intricate composiitons a mere five years earlier, perhaps they would've been considered in the same league as the greats. But American prog had all but disappeared by the late 70s and THE MUFFINS would require decades to be rediscovered.

Also adopting the whimsical playful demeanor of their Canterbury idols, when the band were living in a farmhouse near Gaithersburg, Maryland, they gleefully adopted their missing band name after a friend brought over a tray of blueberry muffins. After announcing that "The muffins are here!" the band took that as an introduction and adopted the new name on the spot. The music is no less playful in full Canterbury form as it took the expected journey into highly complex musical nosedives but allowed sensible breaths of air through the humorous outbursts that would occur throughout the music. While the band was founded by only three members: Dave Newhouse (piano, organ, piccolo flute, alto & baritone saxophones, bass clarinet, whistle, percussion), Billy Swann (bass, piano, guitar, percussion) and guitarist Michael Zentner, it took a few years and a few lineup changes with Zentner ultimately quitting and the lineup adding Tom Scott (piccolo, E-flat, alto & C-flutes, soprano, alto & baritone saxophones, B-flat & alto clarinets, oboe, soprano recorder, percussion) and Paul Sears (drums, gong, xylophone, vibes, percussion, "pots & pans", pennywhistle). On top of that this debut album included five session musicians.

MANNA / MIRAGE contains only four songs. The first two "Monkey With The Golden Eyes" and "Hobart Got Burned" designed to be shorter and a musical invitation to the greater challenges that they build up to. The opener is a delicate mix of brass, flute and piano that slowly ratchets up the complexities that continue through. The majority of musical real estate is dedicated to the near sixteen minute "Amelia Earhart" and side-long (on original vinyl LP) "The Adventures Of Captain Boomerang that neared the 23 minute mark, both of which displayed a fully functioning prog band in full pomp and awe. The two tracks together go through a multitude of Zappa inspired motifs mixed with freeform jazz, Krautrock spaced out ambience and full Canterbury glory. The plethora of instrumental action on board is fueled by a fuzz guitar, jazzed out percussion section and brass bravado with elegant atmospheric appearances of electronica.

Although it would take decades for recognition, THE MUFFINS have become regarded as one of the USA's most accomplished progressive rock bands, far exceeding the popular musical ambitions of bands like Kansas and far beyond anything Zappa would crank out after his jazz-fusion glory days with The Mothers. More on par with the complexities of Happy The Man, this American band released their best album at the beginning but has left a smattering of archival albums over the years to experience. The band seems to have finally gained recognition in the 21st century by reforming and playing at various jazz and Rock In Opposition festivals throughout the years but finally called it quits once again in 2016. As far as Canterbury Scene albums from the 70s are concerned, MANNA / MIRAGE is one for the mandatory listening list. Although a bit more abstract than the greats like National Heath and others of the classic era, nevertheless displays one of the most accomplished examples of a non-English band mastering the intricacies of the style and one of the most brilliant examples of American prog period.

Latest members reviews

3 stars I've waited some time to review this album, odd. Monkey With Golden Eyes is a pretty opener to the album, nice e piano soft bass and gentle wood wind. Halfway through the song adds marimba trills and while repetitive the song slowly gets louder due to the addition of various instruments saxopho ... (read more)

Report this review (#2591003) | Posted by Beautiful Scarlet | Tuesday, August 31, 2021 | Review Permanlink

4 stars Manna/Mirage is a solid alternative minor masterpiece. I don't think the Muffins ever got it together better than this. Think jazzy like Henry Cow jazzy maybe, a la Legend, then go off on a Muffin-esque direction. Lots of fun, raw production, humor and smarts. ... (read more)

Report this review (#81671) | Posted by davEy | Wednesday, June 21, 2006 | Review Permanlink

5 stars Their best. Essential to any Canterbury progressive rock collection. Rich and complex, long tracks and a unique musicianship. Saxes and keyboards are the leaders in this music with plenty of breaks and changes of rhythm and chords. Jazzy, rocky, free, a lot of momentuum. ... (read more)

Report this review (#36879) | Posted by | Saturday, June 18, 2005 | Review Permanlink

5 stars This is by far the best Muffins album in my opinion because they are doing what they do best. Prog rock with a lot of Canterbury influences. I feel this was the best band of that style in the US at that time. And has remained as one of the best in that genre until today. Easy 'masterpiece' ratin ... (read more)

Report this review (#35863) | Posted by | Thursday, June 9, 2005 | Review Permanlink

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