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Manning: Anser's Tree

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.

Track listing
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

Added: October 27th 2006
Reviewer: Pete Pardo
Related Link: Guy Manning Website
Hits: 5951
Language: english

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» SoT Staff Roundtable Reviews:

Manning: Anser's Tree
Posted by Duncan Glenday, SoT Staff Writer on 2006-10-26 23:19:52
My Score:

Guy Manning's music sounds more like early Jethro Tull with every new release, and Anser's Tree has a great deal in common - sonically - with Thick As A Brick. The main reasons for the Tull comparison are the liberal use of acoustic guitar and flute, a slightly hard-edged singer-songwriter approach, and Guy's singing - which has the same relaxed, rich, mid-range tone as Ian Anderson.

But Anser's Tree is far from a Tull clone. Manning has developed his own style which evolves with every new CD, and here we find him flowing comfortably from English folk to complex progressive rock, in a style that seems to be edging away from the fuller, more electric tones of his earlier releases. But two of Manning's signatures remain constant:

His liberal use of Laura Fowles's sax is well applied to many sections, lifting those passages away from the Tull-like folk and into a rich, gutsy sound that will have broad appeal in the prog community.

The other classic Manning signature is the occasional sortie jazz territory, which tends to raise comparisons with the early Cantebury prog artists.

Anser's Tree is a concept album in which Dr. Jonathan Anser explores his family tree - and 6 of the 7 songs tell the story of one of an ancestor. The song titles are the ancestor's name and dates of birth and death - rather like you'd find in a family tree. Anser himself "Dr. Jonathan Anser (2089-???)" is born in the year 2089 - making this an interesting look into the future. It's an unusual concept, and Manning's lyrics are always clearly enunciated - and unlike so many prog artists - his lyrics make sense. So in the tradition of the early progressive artists, it is at once easy to follow the storyline, and rewarding to track how the complexities of the music follow the events in the characters' lives.

"William Barras (1803-1835)" talks about a coalminer, and has a gung-ho rally-round-the-flag boys attitude in the opening some sections that may not have universal appeal. But it's a wonderful 15 minute progressive mini-epic that turns dark part-way through when there's a mining accident - and the bleakness of the accident scene is emphasized by the contrast with that upbeat introduction. "Joshua Logan (1990-2048)" features a series of questions asked by a young child. Endearing at first listen.

Despite the "folksy" and the "singer/songwriter" labels we've applied to Anser's Tree, make no mistake - all of the elements of true progressive music are abundant here, and with his constantly evolving style, Anser's Tree will certainly expand Guy Manning's fan base.


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