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Tarcisio Moura
5 stars When I heard that Guy Manning had released another album I was eager to get it. And a bit skeptical too, I should say. After all the man had released two masterpieces in a row (Songs From The Bilson House and Ten) and I was wondering if he could keep the pace in such a short time span. You know, Manning has released an album per year since his debut in 1999. Unlike many of his peers, he was able to grow with each release and after all these years, he is on the peak of his powers. And, fortunatly, Charlestown only confirms his excellent phase.

Guy manning is definitly a one of a kind songwriter: a craftsman who knows his job like few nowadays. In part he reminds me of the work of Al Stewart (specially his Modern Times and Year Of The Cat albums): like Stewart Manning has the rare hability of putting words and music together without losing neither the power of his clever lyrics nor the high quality of the songs melodies. More importantly, both men work the arrangements to perfection: every note, every instrument and voice is perfectly placed to enhance the message, both lyricly and musically. I wonder how Manning can write, produce and arrange an album of this caliber every year. There is not only no fillers, but also in no time you can say `this song could be better if he did this or that´. A rare breed indeed!

The album starts with one of his best compositions ever: a 35 minute suite telling the story of a sailor lost on sea. Although the theme is hardly original, the delivering is. Very few people could make such a long track sound not only marvelous, but also leaving the feeling it is very short. His long time sidekick Laura Fowles is missing for the first time since The Cure (2000), but she is replaced here by the very capable Alison Diamond, who does a great job not only with the tenor sax but also widening the musical pallette with some fine soprano solos. The extensive use of the flute (alongside with violin and cello) is another plus on his music. The usual mix of prog rock, celtic folk and symphonic prog now has some jazzy overtones added. Nice!

While the title track opus is the main feature here the remaining tracks are excellent too. The delicate Caliban and Ariel shows some great multi tracked vocals that work very well on the storyline. The Man In The Mirror is another highlight with exquisite soprano sax lines and uptempo rhythms that conceal the rather sad lyrics. Clocks is among his best ballads in the vein of Ten´s Valentine´s Night (nice mandolin and flutes. The comparisons with Jethro Tull will be inevitable!). The more ordinary blues rock of T.I.C. may not be on par with the remaining of the tunes, but it is good anyway. Charlestown finishes with the first instrumental track I heard so far on a Manning album: called Finale (a bit redundant but fitting) it is quite interesting too and again the soprano sax solo makes it sounds different from anything GM has done before.

Conclusion: He did it again! Another masterpiece of progressive music, no less. My rating is something between 4,5 and 5 stars. Guy Manning is definitly one of the most important songwriters to appear on the new millenium and Charlestown is definitly a must have for anyone who thinks they don´t make great albums like they used to do in the 70´s. Highly recommended to all music lovers.

Report this review (#307051)
Posted Thursday, October 28, 2010 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars As said in my review of "Songs from the Bilston House," Anyone who likes the 1970s music of VAN MORRISON, JETHRO TULL, MARSHALL TUCKER BAND, DAVE MASON or even the ALLMAN BROTHERS will like the music of Guy Manning. My question remains: Is this prog? Perhaps this album more than previous ones because of the 35 minute epic, "Charlestown" and the inclusion of a Canterbury-like instrumental, "Finale," but the rest is, to me, just standard bluesy-folksy, lyric-driven, "bard"-like rock'n'roll. Is "Charlestown" a masterpiece? It depends if a) you like this kind of music and b) if you consider it "progressive rock." I think it's just rock. Do I consider it and "excellent addition to any prog lovers music collection"? Not mine but maybe yours. Of the Manning catalog, I would most recommend trying/starting with "Songs from the Bilston House." Especially if you like(d) any of the above- named artists music from the 70s. If you like "Bilston House," then you can continue exploring his rather extensive contribution to recorded music. Is it good music? Yes, it is good music?very well crafted music. Just not the kind of music I seek out or return to.
Report this review (#308373)
Posted Friday, November 5, 2010 | Review Permalink
4 stars Another year, another Manning album. Guy Manning has released one album each year for the last eleven years. Answer on a postcard if you know which year he debuted as a solo artist. All his releases has been very interesting indeed. In fact; all his albums deserve purchases. Don't only by this album. Buy the whole lot.

Guy Manning has really pushed the boat out on this album. The 35 minutes long title track is very ambitious, to say at least. It is a track that is bumping a long as the landscape in Guy Manning's Yorkshire, although the track is about a small village in Cornwall (Google 'Charlestown' if you want) and the sea. But this track still have it's peaks and valleys with soaring majestic melody lines and more lyrical musings inbetween. ..........And it works !!! This track is absolute excellent and a sure five stars track.

Then we have some shorter tracks..... Caliban and Ariel too is an excellent track. The same goes for The Man in the Mirror with it's infectious grooves and choir. A more compressed version would make a sure radio hit. But progressive rock is not all about making hits. Anyway, the current version is an excellent song. Clocks is a beautiful ballad and a superb one too.

Then we have T.I.C. and Finale...... Frankly, I do not get anything out of these tracks. T.I.C is a good rocker, but nothing more. Finale is an instrumental with a lot of quirky time changes, but nothing more. Both songs are good, but not in the same class as the rest of the album.

My overall impression is that Guy Manning has released another excellent album which cements his position as one of the three best British prog rock artists in today's scene. Charlestown is also his best ever album. It is not a masterpiece, but it is a close call though.

4.5 stars

Report this review (#308583)
Posted Saturday, November 6, 2010 | Review Permalink
5 stars The new album from Manning is an excellent blend of musical styles all with the 'Manning' signature. Not for this brave band a gradual build up to the epic track, no, here you're straight into the tale of 'Charlestown'. The track evokes the full gambit of musical emotion, drama, despair, anticipation and triumph.

'Charlestown' is a thirty five minute adventure on the high seas of progressive music, superb Hammond, rousing flute, different guitar textures and this is a song that does tell a tale, the lyrics and emotion in the vocals adds to the overall feel of an amazing song, you will find yourself singing along to sections of this splendid opus.

'Charlestown' is a long track, but it doesn't feel like a long track, the song doesn't meander for the sake of it, it tells the story and delights the musical ear all through the journey, close your eyes, listen and enjoy the adventure.

'Caliban & Ariel' by contrast is gentle and less complex sounding, but no less absorbing. Gentle orchestration and layered vocals all blend to form a beautiful track.

'The Man in the Mirror' is what I would class as a 'classic' Manning track; again the lyrics are part of the musical portrait painted to delight the ear. The signature 'sax' adding to the overall sound.

'Clocks' brings to the table yet another set of thought provoking lyrics wrapped in a gentle melody that builds and throws you headlong into a catchy chorus that pulls you further into the music, but somehow doesn't lose the overall slightly melancholy feel. Melodic and graceful, this track adds another dimension to the overall feel of the album.

Now, a Manning album wouldn't be a Manning album without a track that makes you go, "what?" 'Charlestown' is no exception, when the almost 'reggae' beat of 'T.I.C' kicks in, it certainly got me listening. Don't fear, it soon evolves into a catchy, foot-tapping workout of splendid complexity while remaining totally accessible. Some nifty guitar with a blues edge works wonderfully well in this track, not forgetting the sax & flute.

Just when you thought it could get any better, 'Finale' comes along. An instrumental from start to finish, (is this a first for Manning? I think it might well be.) 'Finale' brings back some musical themes from the title track, but this is Manning so don't expect a bland 'copy', oh no, reworked, revamped and with some extras thrown in, this is another amazingly complex but absorbing slice of modern progressive rock that you will find yourself whistling, air keyboarding and air guitaring along to!

To sum up, for this listener (and fan), this is probably the most 'complete' album that Guy and his band have put together. All of the pieces fit together so well, but there is still the variety and challenge to the 'norm' of music by numbers that Guy puts into the music. Never one to do the same thing twice, Guy has put together what I firmly believe is his best album yet.

Report this review (#308764)
Posted Sunday, November 7, 2010 | Review Permalink
Marty McFly
Errors and Omissions Team
4 stars Guy Manning is as precise as Switz Watch, so his expected album was sure bet. Rumours of long epic track were being spoken of in Prog circles, but this result shocked/surprised a lot of people. Including me.

I'm holding my breath and here it comes, epic track by Guy Manning. I'm not that much prepared to face it, but here I am, after few listens, this track still sounds "tasty" (which basically means that I'm willing, no no, I want to listen to it again right now). As every long track (except techno "sets", their very easy to describe), talking about this monster, mentioning certain passages is very difficult. As well as grasping it.

It's good.

Very vague description, but I warned you.

OK, you won't be disappointed.

Still not satisfied ? Well then, let's continue in squeezing some more words (it's not that hard, I'm just fooling around) - Title track Charlestown sounds unlike his previous work (or at least stuff I'm familiar with - about 4-5 albums) and certainly not like "Number Ten" from last year (full of not short, but average Prog-long songs). Song flows easily, calm passages switches with these that revolves around storms, wild chases et cetera (ad finitum, de facto, you know Latin). At least I hope, I'm not good at understanding lyrics (in English) and because this is actually 20th time I'm stating this in a review, it's probably true. It slowly becomes cliché though. Anyway, I'll eventually understand it, because I want to (do it myself).

Happier ? I hope so.

There's a lot of orchestra sound hidden inside to narrate (yes, it's possible) this song and I'm quite keen about this song. Guy Manning's voice is something I slowly (my first reaction was shock) learned how to appreciate and now, I like it. Much.

The rest ? Well, it's bunch of nice songs, there is even blues & country part amongst them. They're solid, even not that memorable.

5(-), maybe four minus in future, but so far, it stands.

Report this review (#308855)
Posted Monday, November 8, 2010 | Review Permalink
5 stars I confess to being an avid fan of Manning since their 'View From My Window' album back in 2003. Since then I have acquired the back catalogue & bought each successive album with enthusiasm. His albums never fail to entertain & vary from album to album, when you consider the frequency these are released this becomes all the more impressive. It is obvious that there is a great deal of care & attention within the production of each album than a new-comer may first think.

'Charlestown' is Mannings 11th release to date & if you believe the website a 'challenging listen'. After a couple spins of the CD I can say that this is not the case [as far as I'm concerned anyway] & the album is far from challenging.

The opening title track is epic in both length & scope, taking you on a journey & guiding you through all the events on the way. Guy always appears to research his subject matter carefully & this shows in his lyrics. In fact I have found myself drawn into the story as it unfolds, because of this the 35 minute duration seems to pass very quickly indeed. The music follows the storyline very well & there is hardly any repetition in the riffs & phrases used, so it keeps you interested through to the end.

The next track 'Caliban & Ariel' is a gentle breather after the epic opener & a pleasant ballad. The multi vocal harmonies showcase Manning's scope for writing touching songs.

'The Man In The Mirror' is more upbeat & brings more substance. The lyric suggests a more somber subject matter, which seems at odds with the music, however it works really well.

'Clocks' is another ballad with a beautiful melody. This is different to the other ballad on the album as it has a more complex arrangement. The chorus is catchy & stays with you after it has long finished.

'T.I.C.' is definitely the bounciest track on the album & is another winner. I have been lucky enough to hear this track in the live setting & it works incredibly well.

'Finale' is Manning's first real instrumental track & is definitely a nod to 'Los Endos' in style & execution. Again the variation throughout the track keeps your attention & it is fun to spot the snippets of other tracks on the album along the way.

The Manning band work very well collectively & this shows. The music presented here is both well written & played, a quality that seems to [amazingly] get better with each new release. If you get an opportunity to see Manning live I would highly recommend them, they prove that this quality of musicianship is not some studio trickery & are well worth the admission in both acoustic & full electric band formats.

Another winner from Manning to my ears & definitely not as 'challenging' as the creator may suggest. I would recommend this album to anyone interested in exploring the Manning catalogue for the first time as well as the seasoned Manning fan [if you don't already have it, shame on you, buy it now?].

Good stuff Manning, I now await your 12th album?

Report this review (#319256)
Posted Sunday, November 14, 2010 | Review Permalink
3 stars I guess this is just not my thing! I've given it a 3 because it is well played and flows very well. The vocals are a big problem for me. I find this with quite a few English bands. Mediocre singers out in the front of the sound. It grates on me. Some can get away with it. Camel almost did and Porcupine tree certainly do! Just a personal thing I guess! I don't find I go back to this. More like an interesting album with fantastic moments but as a whole, a bit folky maybe. It's too progressive and not progressive enough, all at the same time!
Report this review (#320880)
Posted Monday, November 15, 2010 | Review Permalink
5 stars This is the first time I hear Guy Manning and I confess that I love this album, Charlestown epic theme is amazing and the other songs are also pieces that make this album an exquisite masterpiece for any sophisticated ear, the cover reminds me the cover of "Yes" album called "fragile" The Guy Manning voice reminds of Ian Anderson voice of Jethro Tull is an incredible voice, I heard this album over 20 times and never ceases to amaze me, really is an excellent album that put in a good mood.

I using a translator of Spanish to English in my reviews.

All The Best.

Report this review (#321182)
Posted Monday, November 15, 2010 | Review Permalink
4 stars I don't really know how to start this off so I'm going to begin with saying that I enjoyed it. His voice is a bit too similar to Ian Anderson's and the songs are a bit too much like Jethro Tull's. But overall it's quite a decent release.

It is definitely one of those albums that only prog-enthusiasts (classic prog to be more specific) will comprehend and enjoy to its full potential.

The first track seems a bit too long, and feels like it's 5 or 6 songs fused together, you don't get that "whole" feeling, which you get from tracks such as "2112" or "Shine On You Crazy Diamond".

However after the first song, the eponymous "Charlestown", things seem to run more smoothly and we are able to distinguish more originality, although the Jethro Tull influence remains on songs such as "Clocks" , "T.I.C" or "Finale".

4 stars seems appropriate

Report this review (#339946)
Posted Wednesday, December 1, 2010 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
2 stars It's a shame, but I never heard Guy Manning's music before. I even never heard his name during my 3+ decades in music. His release attracted me after he became quite popular on PA,and received some high ratings(some low to be honest as well).

So - this artist was totally new for me. From very first sounds I expected this is multi- instrumentalist album. Usually you can easily hear it because of very static ("non-live") musical structure. Later I found that even he is generally multi-instrumentalist, there are many collaborators on this album. OK, I can really hear added vocals, some strings,sax,etc., but all the music sounds as result of multi-layered production in studio, not real band's recording.

Only 6 compositions, first is extra-ambitious 35 (!) minutes Charlestown. It's great, that compositionally music is quite rich and various, and even so long composition doesn't sound boring. Other shorter songs are quite melodic as well. Album starts with Mike Oldfield-like (from his more new age period) sounds, during long composition their genre will changes many times. You can hear Jethro Tull moments (especially in vocals timbres), some a bit heavier moments,folk rock elements and almost ambient synth/violin moments.Caliban+Ariel is very Jethro Tull influenced ballade, but with simple music and quite unpleasant electric piano sound. The Man In The Mirror starts as heavy rock song,but after few seconds changes to melodic pop-rock song. Clocks is sensible ballad again, but it sounds as pop-adaptation of Blackmore's Night song (and even Blackmore Night themselves are far not rockiest band ever).T.L.C. is vintage Americana. Finale starts with "plastic" synth's sounds and continues as hard rock parody on German TV show - with some heavy keys passages, funny melody and nice pop-folk flute (?) and strings soloing over killing drummer's beat. I understand that album has a concept,and music depends on it, but on musical releases music itself is always more important. We buy albums for listening, if we are interested in story, we can buy a book.

Main problem for me , besides of flat "non-live" sound is music itself. I would say the genre of this album is epic balladry with some multi-layered arrangements. By its compositions structure album balances somewhere on the edge between melodic pop-rock, folk and symphonic-rock,with some new age shadows under the scene. Vocals are quite controversial for me, drummer is below average (I believe in some moments drum machine could sound better), and being quite melodic, this album really lacks of memorable compositions.

In all, the release sounds as average semi-pro album, just not interesting enough for casual listener.I found out that Guy Manning is professional musician for years with many albums released, so evaluation standards really should be more strict in that case.

Mostly release for heavy artist's fans.

Report this review (#349054)
Posted Friday, December 10, 2010 | Review Permalink
5 stars Okay, cards on the table - I've enjoyed all of Guy's work since I first heard of him round about the time of "The Cure". As well as his own considerable body of material Guy added a lightness of touch with the acoustic flavourings in the first few Tangent albums, and is surely now one of the premier English progressive rock songwriters on the scene. 'English' is perhaps the best description, too - it's something that comes over in everything he does, in his voice (described by some as a 'Marmite moment', but I love his singing), the way he puts songs together, and the way they sound on album.

Last year's superlative "Number Ten" was always going to be a tough act to follow, but he's been and gone and done it with "Charlestown". The 35-minute title track alone - a salty tale of wrecking crews, storms and eventual salvation - is worth the asking price, but there's significant icing on this particular cake with the rest of the songs. Caliban and Ariel is a lovely piece of whimsy, based around the fanciful notion that the two characters from The Tempest would meet up after hours and dance on the beach...The Man In The Mirror, the moral tale of a character who lives outside normal society...Clocks, a mandolin-driven reflection on time...T.I.C., a typically sardonic observation on the end of a relationship...capping it all off with Finale, in which some of the themes from the epic title cut are reprised, mangled, turned around and made into something wholly new and wonderful.

This is without a doubt Manning's best effort yet, and that's saying something. Easily a five-star release, in a year when there have been many that could be so described.

Report this review (#349776)
Posted Saturday, December 11, 2010 | Review Permalink
Prog Metal Team
2 stars I will certainly remember 2010 as the year where PA was discovered as a potential promotion tool. This has probably been going on for a while longer but the amount of 2010 albums that get pushed up to star status is endless. It's a nuisance for people trying to find the real 2010 gems, certainly when the actual product is so much less then advertised.

Anyway, in order to put this album in perspective we must place it next to its main influences: Mike Oldfield and Jethro Tull, both responsible for a couple of excellent releases in their heyday. The mix of both influences works quite well on the 35 minute title track but it sure doesn't reach the complexity and epic mastership of TaaB and Passion Play, nor does it offer the emotional tension that Oldfield built up on his 70's epics. But it works quite well as a string of folk songs with instrumental interludes bridging it all together. The shorter songs that follow are mostly forgettable folk-rock, with the exception of the nice campfire moment Caliban and Ariel

There are a couple of problems though that bring this potentially good album down to fan-territory. The first is the lifeless drumming. The static mid-paced backbeat that dominates the entire album drains the songs from all their energy and makes the album a dull listen. Also the synth arrangements are far from exciting and never go beyond the known 70s tweeting teapot and humming bee sounds. Probably it's an attempt to add Prog sauce to the stew but to make a good Prog album, more is needed then old synths. Finally the mix and production are weak, the balance between instruments is far from perfect and the overall sound is rather cold and thin. It leaves an amateur impression.

Charlestown is my first taste of Manning and probably my last. Not that I can't hear the potential of the album, but if an album with so much room for improvement comes advertised as a masterpiece, then there's little reason to believe the acclaimed excellence of any future or past releases. Still, Charlestown is a good album for fans of light folk-rock music. 2.5 stars for me.

Report this review (#351588)
Posted Monday, December 13, 2010 | Review Permalink
2 stars I'll prologue my lengthy review of this album by saying that recently two or three reviews have cropped up here that take a more balanced view of this rather below par effort. I'm pleased to see that there are some people like Bonnek actually listening to it and delivering a sane opinion rather than fanboy ranting. How this album has attained such a high place at the end of the year's standings is a complete travesty that only highlights the worrying state that prog rock finds itself in (because those words don't apply to this album anyway), and the bad name that will be brought once again to the genre (and this excellent site) by what appears to be tactical voting and over-rating if this is indeed the case

I've been a follower of Guy Manning's work for some years now and own most of his albums with a couple of exceptions owing to unavailabity. Like Roy Harper, John Martyn and the solo Peter Hammill works of the 1970s, Manning's records fill a void. You don't want to hear mega prog, but you don't want to hear Sabbath or Nick Drake either. He's been very prolific, possibly too much so over the years resulting in occasional drops in standard and a wee bit too much padding. However, there is no doubt that he is an exceptionally gifted songwriter and an intriguing lyricist. In recent years his albums "Songs From the Bilston House" and a good half of its sequel "Number Ten" have been in regular circulation chez - Thompson on their merits as good, concise and interesting songs with tales to tell. (This is often at the request of my better half who finds some of the meandering stuff by other bands I like, boring and over long.) The latter of these two albums loses me as Guy plunges for the Prog Epic, a place where his skill is nowhere near as well served as in pieces like "Pillars Of Salt", "Skimming Stones" or the staggeringly beautiful and simple "Ordinary Day". The epic in question "The House On The Hill" harks (unsuccessfully) more to the Flower Kings/Tangent model with which I suppose Manning feels a need to associate, and with whom he is, in fact, guilty by association. I feel that Manning has enough to offer without needing to do prog epics which frankly, others do better.

Hence for me, this album "Charlestown" gets off to a bad start. An almost 40 minute long bad start. It's not that any of the sprawling title track isn't well performed, or that it's "crap" or anything. It's just that it's a huge waste of talent because about 5 good songs could have come out of it, but in the end, didn't. The ideas jostle against each other without fully developing, nice vocal lines and guitar interjections broken apart by occasional outbursts of Jethro-Prog, the odd time signatures thrown in to remind eveyone that Manning are PROG. The musicians while competent, certainly can't rise to the occasion in the same way that Virgilio powers Big Big Train along or Reingold dazzles with TFK or Karmakanic. Steve Dundon shines with the flute, sure, but it's so derivative of Ian Anderson's playing that it serves no greater role than one of the million people who can play a guitar solo that sounds like Pink Floyd. Even Marvin the Paranoid Android can sound like Pink Floyd.

"COMING HOME" intones Guy who sounds like he's holding his nose. He sings this 12 times and then thinks it's time for a meandering instrumental made of scales. The guitarist sounds like Mike Oldfield (nothing wrong with that), scales go up and down like a Yes record slowed down, and not a lot is achieved emotionally. Then the tale begins, which is basically the story of a ship that goes to sea, gets wrecked, attacked and comes home with a few survivors. Like the worst folk ballads, this rather thin plot is stretched out over 40 minutes (actually considerably WORSE than the worst folk ballads now I think about it) and to me, well, it's all rather irrelevant. I may be old, but I can't really feel much empathy to the story, and feel I'm in some episode of Poldark or the Onedin Line - awful 1970s television programmes here in Scotland, while Yes and Genesis, Stanley Kubrick and Ken Russell worked, the BBC saw fit to regale us with dull stories of clippers and schooners and men with beards and caps with poor Cornish accents which we had to watch while eating Sunday tea. As usual, Manning's voice is pleasing if somehat more nasal than normal throughout most of it (certainly not Cornish at any rate), but I just get the feeling that theres a timer on somewhere and Manning is playing to the "Let's make a really long one" market without actually having the substance to pull it off, lyrically or musically. The unavoidable fact that Manning does sound a bit like Ian Anderson singing, coupled with the already mentioned flute playing leads one to make constant comparisons with Jethro Tull, something prevous albums have hinted at but miraculously sidestepped. Not so here. Melody, while certainly there, isn't all that attractive, like some later swedish releases from his former sidekicks the melodies are like jingles scattered about but nothing lengthy or absorbing.

There are some impossibly good reviews of this track which are at odds with my opinion which have to be taken into consideration alongside mine. Some of these declare it a "Masterpiece", and all I can say is that they are, of course, wrong, possibly deluded by the running time as many people were with last year's Whirlwind. Why believe me?. Because I really like Manning, that's why.

After we've been wrecked, spent days completely at sea, and come home in "a floating marquee" (album's only really dodgy lyric) we finally get to the normal sized tracks on what's left of the album. Yet we still don't get really good Manning stuff here either. "Caliban and Ariel" for us Shakespeare lovers is a nice ditty with some lovely arrangements and melodies and "Clocks" is nice too if a tad camp. "TIC" whatever that means is frankly dull, over extended and - actually, horrible to listen to, it's a poppy thing with some hideous 80s style synth brass parts best left where they were 30 years ago. "Man In The Mirror" is OK, some nice bits, but this man has written some classics in his time, and these don't hold a candle to titles of yore like "The View From My Window", "Margaret Montgomery" or "Songs Of Faith". The whole album ends off with an instrumental thing where the Manning band appear to sort of do a "Los Endos" affair which is executed reasonably well, but without much heart or conviction. Production throughout is disappointing, not actually bad, but not actually good either. The album is heavily arranged as is normal for Manning, but this time it is quite hard to pick out certain things, the quite dull drums and bass sometimes just wobble together, pattering along under sheets of strings and guitars. I'm fairly certain that this album will turn out to be a blip in an otherwise impressive career. I look forward to Manning releases and it's not normal for him to disappoint. As I said before, I've found over the years that Manning is perfect music for those moments when you want to hear something intelligent but you don't want to put a prog record on. There's a reason why I choose a Manning disc instead of a prog disc, and on this release that reason simply isn't there. It's yet more prog in world where there's already too much, and where the market leaders are way way ahead in terms of musical prowess and recording technology. My opinion is "stick to what you are good at". In terms of interesting songwriters, Guy has proved himself to be among the very very best. This release "Charlestown" sees him trying to go for bigger bucks in a market that does not need him. Therefore this will always be a poor symfo album rather than a great songs album. Hey Ho. Wrong turning, but the main road is not yet too far away.

I hope this is not seen as a condemnation. It's an opinion of someone who cares deeply about the man's music and wants to have more of the great stuff. Unfortunately, this is my first review of Manning, I only restarted doing this a year ago, and I intend to write lengthy and thorough reviews of just a handful of artists rather than trying to do everyone. Had this been any of the 10 earlier albums, this would have been a 4 or 5 star result. However - a 2 star review upgraded to 3 stars for the excellent work of the past and in anticipation of the future. Fingers metaphorically crossed for another year then. Knowing Guy, at least I probably won't have to wait too long for my next fix. For those who are new to the man and his work, I can only suggest checking out "Songs From The Bilston House" and "The Cure", working towards this as the last one to get, not the first.

Report this review (#352408)
Posted Tuesday, December 14, 2010 | Review Permalink
2 stars I recently decided to Rate all the music I own, and in some specific cases, write a review. Well, i haven't really got the time to sit down and write reviews, besides a few.

Got this album like 1.5 months ago because it was highly rated in PA, I'd already heard the 4 last manning albums, because I have a friend who really likes his music, so he got me into it. This album was a major disappoint, but i had it coming, why would I tried a new album by an artist which I haven't enjoy any of his prior albums? simple: because everybody keep saying "This is his masterpiece" , and it was positioned quite high on the yearly charts ...

They were right about something, It is his best album to date, no doubt about that. Unfortunately, for Manning that's not saying much.

The album open with a pleasant promising start, the epic tittle track, which after half of it seems to be way to long and the actual quote of quality/time goes decreasing exponentially. but that doesn't stop at the end of such track, the rest of the album is merely filler, A short LP consisting of one track only (or half of it) would have been more decent (or average).

With this I realize the only Manning I can enjoy seems to be when he acts as a complement of other musicians specially with Andy Tillison in The Tangent, don't get me wrong, he's a very handy musician and is not his fault that he got into a genre with just a few picky fans (isn't that how prog started anyway).

And the reason i decide to write a little bit about the album was more like a warning: No, unfortunately this is not what the word says it is, is the same Manning as usual.

Report this review (#356907)
Posted Saturday, December 18, 2010 | Review Permalink
Symphonic Team
4 stars Coming home after an uplifting journey

Prog albums have a tendency to connect with the listener and when this occurs it is always a rewarding experience. Guy Manning's Charlestown is an enjoyable ride in some melodic prog territory utilising some well executed instrumentation and strong vocals. The band are well accomplished musicians who work as a tight unit to produce a crystalline sound that will appeal to a wide audience. The non threatening style is not going to deter the non prog music listener but there are a variety of progressive nuances on offer that will act as a drawcard for the prog aficionado, in particular a majestic magnum opus.

The album begins with Manning repeating "Coming Home" and in a sense the feel of the album is like coming home after a long journey. The album cover is an iridescent blue that emulates the bright music. The boat on the vast ocean signifies the theme of the album as the boat struggles to get from shore to shore as it traverses treacherous oceanscapes, perhaps in the sense that humanity struggles to find their place in the world as they are forced to ride the stormy waves of life to get to the place where they belong; safe at home. Guy Manning is the driving force on the album naturally and plays a myriad of instruments including acoustic 6,12 and classical guitars, keyboards, and bass. He also enhances the music with slices of bouzouki, and mandolin chopped up with some percussion. His vocals permeate each track and are easy to listen to. He is well backed by some excellent musicians including Chris Catling who plays electric guitars along with Manning and Kev Currie. Dave Albone keeps time on drums, though there is nothing flash on this album. Steve Dundon is a revelation on flute giving the tracks a mystical feel, in the same way as Gabriel on vintage Genesis albums or Ian Anderson. Kris Hudson-Lee enhances the tracks with some inspired basslines and Julie King assists well on backing vocals. The album has a full on orchestral feel thanks to the virtuoso performances of Ian 'Walter' Fairbairn on violin and Kathy Hampson on cello, along with the wonderful Soprano and tenor saxophone by Alison Diamond. With this musicianship, it is little wonder the album has captured the attention of prog related magazines and forums.

The journey begins in masterful style with a massive multi movement suite Charlestown in the progressive tradition of the 70s era when bands indulged in the segmented epic. The title track is the most progressive track with a monstrous running time clocking over 35 minutes. This begins stagnantly with some fluid vocals and minimalist instrumentation. It builds gradually and changes mood until it breaks into a sweeping instrumental break with powerful layered keyboards and a soaring lead guitar. About halfway through, the piece plunges into rock guitar mode and then the flute enhances the mood of travelling aboard a boat in the traditional style. There is a whimsical full sensory vibe helped by conceptual storytelling vocals. I am reminded of Ian Anderson's style here as there are definitely Tull influences that abound in the vocal delivery and lyrical style; "The captain grabs a spinning wheel, and waiting for the strain, oh he pulls against the tide, turns the boat within the water, ... The men aboard feel braced and steady grimly working, we are ready and locked inside this race, safe ashore in their mother's arms, our children lie asleep".

The time sig is choppy like waves on the ocean. The atmosphere is generated by the lyrics of course but the flute and shimmering Hammond make it even sound somewhat like ELP's Pirates, Genesis' Home By The Sea or even VDGG's A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers. Especially this is the case when the pace settles to allow for an interlude of dreamy violin and electric piano. The peace and tranquillity is beautiful with effects of lapping water to create the feel of a boat adrift on an endless ocean. Fairbairn's fiddle flows organically with the keys that lull you into a false sense of security. Then the atmosphere changes and a storm of hurricane Hammonds and crashing percussion breaks out. The electric guitar becomes a lightning rod on the wall of sound. It settles into an upbeat chord progression. The bassline drives it along and the synth takes over. At this point I am really hooked by the power of these musicians. This would be a magnificent live experience. The thunder crashes and there is rain as a haunting backdrop for the new section which is dominated by lush keyboards and meandering mellotron. Soon the vocals return in another segment but the hope has dried out and the mood is darker with the desperate pleading vocals; "we wait for the wind it but it has slipped away, at last my dry lips move and I start to pray, Oh Lord how can this be, so close to shore and final rest, body and mind take the final hopeless test". The story moves from the storm wrecked ship to the final hope of finding shore and survival. It may be a metaphor of life or taken literally. The boat is finally guided in by the spirits of the ocean, we hear seagulls as the boat nears the shore, and, maybe like Coleridge's "The Rime of The Ancient Mariner", the sea faring adventures are "purged of all their sin". The piece builds to a crescendo with splashes of keys and a searing lead guitar. To bookend the adventure Manning sings "Coming home" again and confirms that it has been a cycle, as the tale has turned full circle, returning to the endlessness of the sea, and perhaps the circle of life, it is unclear as this seems open to interpretation. The piece ends with the violins playing 'Auld Lang Syne' to augment the coming home feel. The ray of hope is evident, the sea farers have made it to shore and have survived their ordeal. What lessons have we learnt from their story? It is up to the listener to glean meaning according to their circumstances.

Well, after that incredible track what else is on offer? Caliban and Ariel is next and did not resonate with me, but it is only a short interlude between two great tracks. The melancholia created here is startling after the lengthy multi movement suite of the title track. It is almost like a calm after the storm.

Man in the Mirror is a faster more lively track with some pleasant melodies and a resounding clang of a keyboard chord. The sax is a welcome enhancement to the sound in the extended intro. The vocals are higher and tell a story of famine and struggling to survive in a greedy town full of callous cruel folk, "we live in a sheltered humble home where the hillside meets the sky, far from the gaze of prying folk." The story continues about one good soul who stands out among the crowd who refuse to be greedy and callous; the man in the mirror. The melody is upbeat with memorable lyrics; "the man in the mirror with the smiling face watches their world go by, watches their world go by, the man in the mirror with the tragic face never said goodbye, never said goodbye." There is an unreserved jaunty flavour in the instrumental break with swinging violins sounding like a prog hoedown, along with jumping keyboards and jangly guitar crashes. This is a really great song with an infectious melody that grows on you with every listen, and it is totally accessible for those who do not like their music too way out and complex.

Clocks is a slow dreamy piece with scintillating flute motifs that wash over the music like waves of ambience upon a sea of tranquillity. The haunting lyrics promote a state of searching for hope in the form of being with the loved one of your dreams; "time to turn against the tide and let me live again, feel you close beside," the romantic lyrics are reflective and bring the listener into a relaxed mood. There are some interesting flute and mellotron trade offs that create a strong ambience. The lyrics may be interpreted to concern life's struggles and the hope within each person when they find the one who fills that void, in this case a ghost pleads with his living lover to help bring him back though she fails to do so and watches him fade away "the vision fades the hope is gone, but I watch you go and I just slip away, stay with me". The chorus builds with the help of multi layered keyboards and subtle flute; "when I'm feeling up when I'm feeling down, when I'm with you I'm right here on the ground." A very nice track that has the power to grow on a listener over time.

T.I.C. is a more raucous song with strong vocals; "I know what your'e thinking, I see where you go, I know what I'm feeling, You're never alone". The instrumental break is a powerful melodic synthesizer, in a retro style and there are many eclectic nuances as styles are blended to create some inspirational music. The sax is terrific but the Jethro Tull style flute passages are the real key feature on this track.

Finale of course ends this and for me it ends on a high note with a lengthy instrumental in the same flavour as Genesis' Los Endos, focussing on crystalline synth passages and there are blasts of Hammond to revel in. It reminds me in some ways of early King Crimson, especially when the flute chimes in. The lead guitars are well executed as another layer. The pace locks into a quirky time signature towards the end and the return of the acoustic guitar ends the piece.

In conclusion, "Charlestown" is a pleasant surprise, as I have heard nothing else from this talented group of musicians who have quite a prolific discography. The opening epic is masterful, and I felt the rest of the album did not measure up, but this was still overall a well-produced album, with every musician rising to the occasion. Manning has executed a memorable journey, and, with the aid of subtle nuances such as seagulls, rain and storm effects, this resonated well with me. It was a delight to be able to soak in the atmospherics, to plunge deep into the concept that spoke to my heart when I needed it, and it was uplifting to my spirit. In light of this I can award this 4 stars for innovation, musicianship and, on a personal level, the wonderful enriching experience.

Report this review (#362487)
Posted Friday, December 24, 2010 | Review Permalink
2 stars Graduating to Semi-Pro from Advanced Amateur

At Progwarts school of Symphonic Wizardry, Guy Manning is a solid 4th year pupil. He's got a firm command of basic prog key sounds, including Canterbury maestro Dave Stewart's signature distorted organ. He's learned Ian Anderson's vocal mannerisms. He strums a mean bazouki. Various friends provide the requisite flute, drums, and lead guitars with decreasing levels of skill respectively. But overall, our student is meeting all expectations and is ready for his jump up to semi-pro musician.

For his 4th year project, we get CHARLESTOWN. As part of the assignment, an epic was required, and Manning surely ran with that idea! At 35 minutes he more than doubled the required length. One can forgive some of the lack of focus given the zeal of the developing artist. We also get several shorter pop-tinged songs which fits perfectally into the model of modern prog. Manning's voice is clearly the most developed and emotive of his many instruments, but he obviously hasn't completed his study of Peter Hammill yet. I should also add that Manning's compositional skills are also pretty good. Sections flow together nicely, and he blends a nice variety of sounds to keep up some variety and interest. This would reward our pupil with graduation to the next level with a solid B.

Joking aside, this album sounds like a hobbyist's project from the beginning. As other's have said, the production is very raw. But it's not raw in a noisy garage band kind of way, it's raw in the ProTools 101 way. The playing is almost too perfect, too deliberate. The drumming is especially mechanical. It often sounds as if the percussion is programmed or played though a digital set, but it is so perfectally on the beat that the music has very little groove at all. In fact, all of the parts are just too safe. There just isn't feeling of risk anywhere on this disk. The instrumental solos have little fire. A few of the guest musicians add a little life, but I never get the feeling that they are allowed to really cut loose.

Probably my favorite song on the album is "Clocks," with it's hummed harmony vocal and mellotron bridge. Rhythm is provided only by a pulsing jingle bell, and the acoustic guitars, and the song benefits. "Finale" is also a nice little prog instrumental, but the other short songs are pretty much throwaways. "Caliban and Ariel" and "T.I.C" are the weakest to my ear while "The Man in the Mirror" is typical pop-prog. The epic has a few nice melodic themes, long instrumental sections, and enough repetitions of "Coming Home" to almost annoy but not quite.

So as the title says, Manning strides the line between amateur and semi-pro musician. And all the criticisms that point to that fact would be moot if the music itself was more inspired or communicated better. But the songwriting is at about the same level as the rest of the work. If it was a fellow local musician, I'd say nicely done. But placed against the world of prog music, this is a 2-3 star effort. Hopefully he'll get some help on production, inject a little more fire into the performances and we can discuss the work of a bonafide prog wizard.

Report this review (#365337)
Posted Monday, December 27, 2010 | Review Permalink
3 stars Coming home...

Guy Manning survives shipwreck and lynch mobs to bring us his most adventurous, and most accomplished release to date.

The Good: Those familiar with Manning albums will already know he can't sing for toffee, so it's probably inevitable that my favourite track on Charlestown is the one without vocals. Having said that, Finale is a superb composition by anyone's standards, and even won the coveted award for 'My favourite instrumental track from a non-instrumental album of 2010', in the British solo artist category. Another song which bring a nice change of pace to the proceedings is Caliban and Ariel, a dreamy ballad which references character's from Shakespeare's The Tempest.

However the main event is the epic title track which clocks in at just over 35 minute! Traditionally Manning's longer tracks had a habit of degrading into extended lulls or repetitive sequences, but Charlestown really is excellent throughout. The musical imagery it conjures up is so strong that last time I listened to it I was under the impression that it had actually started to rain. Considering I was on a coach driving through the Tabernas desert of southern Spain then this was no mean feat! Although I should probably mention that I was also suffering heavily from dehydration and sleep deprivation at the time, but I digress...

The Bad: This is the part of the review where I talk about how annoying Guy Manning's voice is, and it is, but to be fair the vocals on this release are actually more tolerable than recent outings. Next I am supposed to point out how mundane the rest of the tracks are and sure, Clocks and The Man in The Mirror don't have much going for them, but they aren't particularly bad either which is always a relief as Manning has a habit of dropping some absolute clangers. In contrast, I never used to care much for T.I.C. either, but once you strip away the textbook lyrics and wensleydale chorus there's a cracking little tune hidden below with some really nice guitar work.

The Verdict: 3.999999... stars.

Report this review (#439774)
Posted Wednesday, April 27, 2011 | Review Permalink
kev rowland
Crossover Team
3 stars Sticking to his normal routine, just a year after 'Number Ten' we get number eleven from Guy, 'Charlestown'. Interestingly, although this has been recorded in yet another short time period from the previous album, here only one person (Kev Currie) has been retained. But of course, with a multi-instrumentalist at the helm there isn't a major change in musical direction. This time Guy kicks off with an epic, a 35 minute piece about a sailor lost at sea. The guitar and flute interplay within this song is masterful, really breathing life and vitality into it, but the drumming seems somewhat flat and instead of driving the song along is instead dragging it down so that it isn't nearly as effective as one would expect it to be. The sax is used sparingly, so when it appears it has great impact, and there is a warmth coming from the bass, but there are times when it just feels that there is something missing and that is probably the impact (or lack thereof) of the percussion.

After the power of the opening number, we are treated to something far more delicate in "Caliban and Ariel" where Guy has just gentle piano and cello as the song develops. One of my personal favourites is "Man In The Mirror", which is more upbeat with some great sax, while there is no doubt that closer "Finale" is one of the most intricate and powerful instrumentals he has undertaken. Overall this is a very solid album, just not with the power of 'Number Ten'.

Report this review (#825853)
Posted Friday, September 21, 2012 | Review Permalink
4 stars If you love Iron Maiden or Magma, you should not listen to this work of Manning, let alone comment. Charlestown is a delightful 35-minute suite that runs lyrically and musically through various passages sung and instrumental, well accompanied by flutes, acoustic guitars and cello among others. A bold work, but which achieves the goal of entertaining anyone looking for this type of music created. Caliban and Ariel is a delicate piece, smooth and direct. The Man in the Mirror is an upbeat song that is about mood swings, and to move on and not lose heart. The music accompanies those feelings with solid acoustic guitars, sax and violin. Clocks is another soft song based on guitar and flute, and a good synthesizer orchestration. T.I.c. has an obvious touch of Rhythm and Blues and Finale is just a good instrumental.
Report this review (#934422)
Posted Saturday, March 23, 2013 | Review Permalink
Errors & Omissions Team
3 stars Guy Manning is a musician that has been active for almost 15 years and now in 2013 he and his band are about to release their 14th album. Charlestown (2010) was their 11th album and has one thing I have always loved, a really long track.

Prog Rock albums that incorporate long tracks have always been one of the most interesting things to me. But I'm not talking about 10 minutes tracks, I'm talking about 20+ tracks. In the Charlestown (2010) case, I'm talking about a 35 minutes long track.

You need to being aware of the fact that, in this new Prog days, to release an album with a half an hour song wrapped in 70's style, you need guts! From time to time we have albums with long tracks, but Manning did it perfectly with track one of the album 'Charlestown' and its 35'08 minutes. You have the complex yet structured suite that tells a story. In this case, a sailors story. One thing that wouldn't pass unnoticed is Guy Manning's voice. It's so similar to Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson that sometimes you actually think that Ian is once again recording some great Prog. 'Charlestown' is rich, deep and full of great melodies all over the song. And it's pretty much the thick body of the album.

'Caliban And Ariel' does the hard job of giving continuity to Charlestown (2010), especially after the opening giant track. It does well, but unfortunately I must say that it is a weak continuity. The track is a ballad that is quite pretty but doesn't really go anywhere. Then we have 'The Man In The Mirror' that tries to keep the Prog sound going, but I think the song has the chorus repeated too much. Much of the Manning's music is led by the acoustic guitars (Guy's main instrument), and this one is not an exception. Add cello, saxophone and a fiddle solo and you have 'The Man In The Mirror'.

'Clocks' comes in and one starts to wonder if all Manning's cards were played in 'Charlestown', because the rest of the tracks are quite weak, frankly speaking. This one looks like a leftover from a 90's Jethro Tull album. Unfortunatelly 'T.I.C.' doesn't make me change my mind about the whole Charlestown (2010). 'T.I.C.' is definitely the best track after the opening one and has good guitars, keyboards and a catchy chorus. But two songs (even if one is 35 minutes long) are not enough to make a whole album. But, we still have a final track called 'Finale'. This is a great instrumental track with an upbeat tempo, a Prog Extravaganza I would say. They have a great opening track and a very good ending, but what about the middle?

On Charlestown (2010) it seems that Guy Manning tried really hard with the title-track and forgot about the rest of the album. And this is a pity, cause this album could be a modern Prog classic if better worked on. As it is, not really. But anyway, it's really worth checking because of the mentioned tracks.

(Originally posted on

Report this review (#1034630)
Posted Saturday, September 14, 2013 | Review Permalink

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