Guy Manning doesn't like to be called a singer/songwriter. That
evokes images of the Joni Mitchells and the Bob Dylans of the world, and it's
true that his music has little in common with those luminaries. Manning's sound
is very different - it is full, with layer upon layer of progressive
instrumentation and rich compositions with enough shifts and intricacies
to keep his audience thinking.
On the other hand his record label describes him as ...a storyteller and a
writer of songs. A modern day troubadour, who chooses to compose songs that have
strong melodies, depth and interesting emotive arrangements in order to tell his
tales. Singer/songwriters pen
original, personally distinctive songs with the prose being at the center of
each piece, and they and they become the primary performers of their songs; and that
certainly describes Manning. In fact the description probably fits One Small Step better
than his previous output.
Manning's newest release is more acoustic than before, and less overtly 'proggy'
in the generally accepted sense of the word. Yet the "One Small Step" suite
is a 31 minute epic, and despite being more acoustic than electric
there are all the layers, intricacies and depth that we've come to expect. A
comparison that springs to mind is Jethro Tull's Thick As Brick. The choice of instrumentation
is similar, Manning has a distinctly
Anderson-esque vocal timbre, and the atmosphere of the whole piece has distinct
similarities. And before you ask - no, that comparison is not made because of
guest flautist Martin Orford's contribution. Orford has his own style, and the
flute does not dominate the instrumentation as it does with 'Tull.
Each of the 4 songs that are independent of the suite is very distinct,
and the standout is probably "Night Voices". It has none of the
complexities usually associated with prog - think of it as a folk-pop song - but
the lyrics will bring a lump to the throat and the melody is one of those that
will stay with you for days. "No Hiding Place", in contrast, is standard Guy
Manning - a 9-plus minute piece with a long, complex instrumental section, a
relatively simple but memorable vocal line, and lyrics that explore the loss of
innocence in children subjected to trauma or abuse. And it is Manning's lyrics
that set him apart from many other practitioners of the genre. More than with his
prior releases, the prose on One Small Step conveys its message clearly
yet with elegant poetic rhythm. None of that proggy esoteric mumbo-jumbo here.
In a style that recalls some of the better '70s fare you'll hear the lyrics, get
the message, find some hidden gems, and admire the rhyme and the rhythm of the
words - and that is an art unto itself. If only more lyricists would follow this example.
The "One Small Step" epic conveys a simple message, examined from 8 different
points of view - and the message is: Why does man have this ambition rush into
space exploration - and even consider taking vacations out there - without a
thought for who we are, what makes us what we are. There's a vocal line in Part
1 that summarizes the whole piece: And
if we are to make some journey into space / Should we not first learn to love
the human race. Although the piece revolves around the acoustic guitar
there's still plenty of lead guitar, flute, keyboards, strings, strong saxophone
lines and soft female backing vocals. Add reprised themes, constant tempo
shifts, and interesting arrangements and there's no question that it will keep
your interest. One of the interesting items is the twin songs "Man Of God" and "God Of Man".
These are 2-1/2 minute pieces with almost identical instrumentation and melody and
similar lyrics, but obviously the meaning of the one song is inverted
in the other. It's an interesting exercise to play these 2 tracks one after the
other, again and again, and pick out the small differences - like the section
where the fiddle replaces the flute. Similarly, parts 1 and 8 that bookend the
set have common elements - yet this time they aren't quite as obvious.
Ed Unitsky's cover art again illustrates the cover and the booklet, and as
before, the artwork is busily punctuated with vignettes that reflect the songs,
or elements from the prose.
It's difficult to make a qualitative comparison between One Small Step
and Manning's previous albums because they're very different. This one may be
simpler in terms of the instrumentation and execution, but more complex in terms
of songwriting and structure - and the long piece was obviously a far more
challenging composition. Still - there are more similarities than differences
and the growing legion of Manning fans will at once find plenty of his classic
style here, and they will have fun digging into the new style. Recommended.
1. In Swingtime
2. Night Voices
3. No Hiding Place
4. The Mexico Line
ONE SMALL STEP...(Parts (I-VIII)
5. One Small Step (Part I - Star Gazing)
6. One Small Step (Part II - For Example)
7. One Small Step (Part III - At The End Of My Rope)
8. One Small Step (Part IV - Man Of God)
9. One Small Step (Part V - A Blink Of The Eye)
10.One Small Step (Part VI - God Of Man)
11.One Small Step (Part VII - Black & Blue)
12.One Small Step (Part VIII - Upon Returning)