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Manning, Guy: A Matter of Life & Death (The Journal of Abel Mann)

Guy Manning's first release on ProgRock Records (and sixth overall) is a spirited yet personal concept album based on a character named Abel Mann, whom Guy first introduced back on the Tall Stories for Small Children album back in 1999. On this latest continuation of the saga of Mann, Guy enlists Laura Fowles on sax & vocals, Gareth Harwood on guitar & vocals, and Rich Aston on bass & vocals, while also getting some support from Tangent mate Andy Tillison (check out his blinding Moog solo on the symphonic opener "The Dream"), John Tipping (drums), Ian Fairbairn (fiddle), Neil Harris (piano, ,melodica, percussion, vocals) and Tim Moon (cello.) Guy provides lead vocals, keyboards, acoustic, electric, & 12 string guitars, mandolin, drums, and percussion.

The album is wonderfully produced, with rich layers of keyboards (loads of Mellotron throughout, especially on the catchy "Omens") and guitars providing a rich tapestry of sound for which Manning's Ian Anderson-styled voice and the alluring backing vocals of Fowles soars over top. In fact, Manning sounds better here than on any previous release, perhaps due to the better production, or perhaps simply that this particular concept piece has really inspired him to new levels. Songs like "The River of Time", with its haunting piano, acoustic guitar, Mellotron, and synth lines, or the lengthy "Out of My Life", highlighted by some melodic sax and symphonic proggy keyboards, are just entirely endearing pieces that you will want to listen to over and over again. "The Silent Man" has a very folky, Jethro Tull-meets-Tempest feel, while "Life's Disguises" could have easily been a leftover from Tull's Too Old to Rock & Roll or Songs From the Wood albums, with Manning on lush acoustic guitar and passionate vocals. Guitarist Harwood proves to be a very adept player, laying down some crunchy riffs on "Midnight Sail" and a tasty solo on the symphonic rocker "The Dream", two of the more upbeat rock tunes on a CD of mostly dark, moody, and symphonic prog.

A special mention needs to be made of artist Ed Unitsky , who has also done art for The Tangent and The Flower Kings. He has done a fabulous job on this CD, and any fan of the Fish era Marillion cover art will love the gorgeous work that Ed has put together here throughout the entire booklet.

In summary, two thumbs-up for Guy Manning's latest release, as he is proving to be an artist who just keeps getting better and better each time out, and really seems to be having a blast doing it. ProgRock Records is starting to string together a strong list of winners, and all the other labels best be looking over their shoulders.

Track List
1) The Dream
2) Nobody's Fool
3) Omens
4) The River of Time
5) Silent Man
6) Falling Down?Rising Up!
7) Life's Disguises
8) Out of My Life
9) Midnight Sail

Added: January 17th 2005
Reviewer: Pete Pardo
Related Link: Guy Manning's Official Website
Hits: 9241
Language: english

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» SoT Staff Roundtable Reviews:

Manning, Guy: A Matter of Life & Death (The Journal of Abel Mann)
Posted by Steve Ambrosius, SoT Staff Writer on 2005-01-17 14:51:57
My Score:

Well, I tipped my hand a little by ranking this CD 2nd overall in my 2004 listings before reviewing it. Guy Manning's new CD A Matter Of Life and Death opens with a catchy Alan Parsons rhythm section that would fit on Turn Of A Friendly Card. And although the songs on this CD will sound familiar and there is no doubt that Manning's vocals sound like Ian Anderson, there is nothing old and stale on this CD. The almost overture like "The Dream" with a string section by Ian Fairbain and Tim Moonto, the Moog (played by Andy Tillison), and the layering of the music, is one of the best lead off tracks you can think of.

A Spanish guitar opens track 2 "Nobody's Fool". This begins what I would describe as 'Songwriter' prog. The song would fit on an old 70s Eric Anderson album, but since it is the real introduction to the hero of the story, it works more like the first "solo" in a musical. If there is one complaint on this CD, it is that Mr. Manning doesn't let the band interject enough counter melodies.

"River of Time", although another mellower number, is one of the highlights of the CD. This contains Laura Fowles' best background vocals. She adds a perfect haunting element to compliment the acoustic guitar work. This song is crying out for a Tillison counter melody running off and deflecting the main theme. The piano solo in the middle is a good example, but acts as a bridge instead of a counter melody. The strongest point of this song is the lyrics. Concept or no-concept, treating time like a tangible being that "feeds on emotion, demands our devotion, and sucks all our innocence dry" leaves you a little haunted.

Mr. Manning saves the biggest surprise for last. After the fun song "Out Of My Life", we're given a classic AOR rock and roll song. It really reminds me of Fish's Internal Exile where you are surprised to hear "Something In The Air". "Out Of My Life" is a great song though, but just a surprise. It makes you think Guy and the Band could do anything they wanted to and make great music out of it.

If you are looking for The Tangent or other such prog-CDs that Mr. Manning has performed on, you might be a little disappointed. If you are looking for song-based music that has enough twists to keep you interested for almost an hour, than A Matter Of Life and Death is the perfect CD. Great work Mr. Manning.

Manning, Guy: A Matter of Life & Death (The Journal of Abel Mann)
Posted by Duncan Glenday, SoT Staff Writer on 2005-01-09 21:45:45
My Score:

It took a long time to review this CD because there are so many different influences that it was almost impossible to categorize this music. Progressive folk? Yes, there's plenty of Tull and even Strawbs in here - but it's also more complex, and heavier than folk. '70s-Styled progressive rock? No question about it - except that there are also many very modern elements. Hard rock? There are certainly many hard segments here but there are also soft, proggy and even jazzy sections. Singer-songwriter? That may be your first impression, but there's a whole band here, with the variety of inputs and influences that elevates the music well beyond troubadour status.

Well - perhaps the broad array of influences on A Matter Of Life & Death defines its own category.

All that variety may lead you to fear that the music would be all over the map. Not so - although there's a good range of sounds here, and despite the song-orientation apparent on this album, it's a very cohesive piece that addresses the concept described in the subtitle 'The Journal Of Abel Mann'. This character was introduced in previous Manning albums, and here we find him in a poignant reflection on the successes and failures of his life. Manning's lyrics are far better than most in today's progressive music. There's a purpose to each song and the heartfelt prose is perfectly matched to the music, but you can't help thinking the album would be well served by a summary of the story in the cover booklet.

It's almost impossible to select a standout track here, but a favorite is "River Of Time" It isn't the most complex or the most 'progressive' song on this CD - that honor goes to the sax-rich and mostly instrumental "Out Of My Life" - but it is a soft melodic piece that you might find yourself playing over and over again. Guy's fat twelve-string guitar complements Laura Fowles' whisper-soft and very feminine background vocals, while the rich but understated keys and gentle bass and occasional high-register synth motifs build an elegant, introspective piece that segues nicely into "Silent Man", a more folk-rock oriented piece with fiddle, mandolin, and a heavy Jethro Tull influence.

In fact, that 'Tull reference is all over this CD. Not in the instrumentation, but in the folk-rock orientation on "Life's Disguises" and "Silent Man", and particularly, in the vocals. Imagine a younger Ian Anderson without the cynicism and you have a good idea of Guy's delivery. It has a rich mid-ranged timbre and a clear if occasionally sibilant enunciation. The vocals are very up-front in the mix and there aren't many long instrumental sections so the singing and the lyrical content are dominant aspects on this record.

This is Manning's sixth solo album since 1999. In that time he's also worked on parallel Or 90 degrees, two acclaimed The Tangent CDs, and with La Voce Del Vento on one (soon two, we understand) Colossus 'Spaghetti Epic' projects. As prolific as that may be it appears that his product gets stronger with each successive release, and A Matter Of Life & Death is probably his best body of work yet.

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