Anser's Tree is the latest release from singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Guy Manning, a concept album telling the story of Dr. Jonathan Anser and his quest to find the truth and history of his family tree. As Manning takes you through this history, from six ancestors up through Jonathan himself, a rich musical tapestry of moods and styles are weaved, led by Guy's enticing, Ian Anderson-ish vocals, layers of acoustic guitars, flutes, fiddle, keyboards, mandolin, biting electric guitar, and percussion. More dense and intricate than Manning's last release One Small Step, this new one is a little closer in style to 2004's A Matter of Life and Death, but as with all of the output from Mr. Manning, the end result is a charming mix of folk and prog rock sounds.
First and foremost, the guest flute work from Stephen Dundon is astounding here. His wispy & soaring lines permeate the gorgeous "Jack Roberts (1699-1749)" and the progressive tinged "Margaret Montgomery (1581-???)", giving the overall sound a touch of that all too familiar and welcome Jethro Tull edge. Sax player Laura Fowles adds a nice jazzy touch to a few tracks, and fiddler Ian 'Walter' Fairbaim lends his folky flavor on a couple of songs as well. Keyboard-wise, the albums pretty rich, with Manning, Neil Harris, and The Tangent's Andy Tillison contributing piano, synths, Mellotron, Hammond, Moog, and Fender Rhodes, giving each song a vintage 70's feel. Listen to the bubbling synth and tasty Hammond licks mixing with Manning's warm acoustic guitar strums on the melodic "William Barras (1803-1835)", a lengthy epic that also features some nice electric guitar from David Million and Dundon's spitting flute blasts. The soothing "Diana Horden (1900-1922)" sees folk and jazz weaved together, thanks to plenty of sax and acoustic guitar, while "Joshua Logan (1990-2048) " sees waves of Mellotron meld with some tasty blues/jazz solos from Million, who does his best to turn this one into more of a funky rocker. Manning's vocals work real well here, especially on the dreamy chorus where the Mellotron perfectly supports his catchy hooks.
Hints of Genesis, Supertramp, Yes, and Traffic can be heard on the album's other epic "Prof. Adam Logan (2001-2094)", a real proggy gem, complete with a great Moog solo from Manning and lots of squonking sax from Fowles. The final piece " Dr. Jonathan Anser (2089-???)" pulls everything together and brings the whole story up to date, with layers of Hammond, Mellotron, and the whole band contributing to a bombastic crescendo.
Fans of lush folky prog rock should welcome Anser's Tree with open arms. If you're already a fan of Guy Manning, this latest release will certainly put a smile on your face and leave you in wonderment of just how much creativity he has in his gas tank.
1. Margaret Montgomery (1581-???) (7:13)
2. Jack Roberts (1699-1749) (6:39)
3. William Barras (1803-1835) (14:45)
4. Diana Horden (1900-1922) (7:47)
5. Joshua Logan (1990-2048) (7:58)
6. Prof. Adam Logan (2001-2094) 11:59)
7. Dr. Jonathan Anser (2089-???) (7:07)
Total Time: 63:28