|Guy Manning - Tall Stores For Small Children|
Cat. No.: CYCL 078
Total Time: 69:20
Reviewed by: Stephanie Sollow, September 2001
The debut album from Guy Manning, released in 1999, is an often-intimate affair. Manning's vocals are up front in the mix, though the music isn't unbalanced. Large parts of Tall Stores For Small Children are acoustic, though there are others that would generally be classified as mellow rock at least in terms of tempo and design, though perhaps not in intent. Some of the influences that can be heard in his music are Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull, and, at least to me, a bit of The Moody Blues (and every once in while a keyboard passage will make me think of Marillion). All of these can be heard in the album's opener "The Last Psalm," but also elsewhere, as in the guitar solo during the instrumental interludes of "The Rise And Fall Of Abel Mann?" which sounds very much like latter-day David Gilmour in his Floyd guise. Jethro Tull comes to mind on "The Voyager" which is based on some heavy middle-eastern phrasing. Here, and in the more acoustic passages of the album as a whole, Manning's voice takes on a very Anderson like cadence. Interestingly, there is often a very classic feel to Manning's sound as well, as this album easily could have been recorded in the late 60's. In listening to the last movement of "The Last Psalm" it is the Mamas and Papas that comes to mind (sans the mamas, as there aren't female vocals here). It is only now, with both the music and lyrics in front of me, that I finally get "The Candyman." Or at least another interpretation, different again from what Manning says (in my interview with him). It's not so much what I thought upon first glance, a song about finding someway of leaving a lasting mark upon the world, though that is a component of it -- "The Candyman" is the fleeting innocence of youth. For some the candyman might be the ice cream man, who, if were a bit late getting money from mom (or dad), we might have to chase down the street. And yet, in a blink of an eye, he's gone. Sometimes as our hopes and dreams are. For the first segment of this track, which is one of the few that isn't multi-movement, Manning's vocals are so subtle as to get lost in the mix, as least when listened to without headphones.
Not sure I can really specifically tell you why I thought of the Moody Blues. "Holy Ireland" is another multi-part suite with a variety of textures, the second movement being a letter from a soldier to God, who like the protagonist in "The Candyman" wants to leave something of himself behind so as to not totally die. The closing passage takes on a very militaristic theme with marching percussion and flute-like sounds.
Manning's music palette includes various keyboards including Hammond organ which lends a track like "The Rise And Fall Of Abel Mann?" a very warm feel, even if the mood is rather melancholy, especially during the second movement of the suite "Waiting On A Ledge." I don't know if it's just a coincidence, but the lyrics at the end of the first movement "Grand Fanfare" -- "Bring on the orchestra, play me the grand fanfare" -- echo something Billy Joel wrote for his The Nylon Curtain album called "Where's The Orchestra?". Each have has a similar sentiment, at least in one reading: life's endings (either of chapters or the entire book) should have an orchestra playing out the last remaining words.Tall Stories... might get overlooked in comparison to the other offerings on the Cyclops label, as this isn't poppy, driving rock as generated by some his labelmates. This is more in the tradition of the singer/songwriter, and yet there are passages that would go over well with the "neo-prog" crowd, such as in the keyboard heavy "Priest's Song" which ends "Holy Ireland." (Yes, it is both this and militaristic as mentioned above). Though certainly not that audience exclusively.
As I've said about many an album, this isn't one you "get" on just one listen. Fortunately, it's well worth close attention as Manning has a lot to say and really does so with an economy of words. It's an album that wears well, becoming more enjoyable and endearing as you pull back the layers. So much happens under the surface that headphones are mandatory.
Track Listing: The Last Psalm: i.) The Preacher, ii.) Windows, iii.) A Beacon, iv.) Last Psalm (14:07) / The Voyager (5:22) / White Waters (5:46) / The Candyman (7:07) / The Fall And Rise Of Abel Mann?: Grand Fanfare (2:02) - Waiting On A Ledge (4:42) - Grand Fanfare (Revisited) (0:43) - 3 Score Years And 10 (2:18) - In My Life (5:06) / Castaways (4:25) / Holy Ireland: The Land (2:40) - A Soldier's Story (3:21) - The Widow's Tale (4:42) - Priest's Song (4:01) - The Land (Reprise) (2:58)