The latest musical offering from Guy Manning
is entitled Songs from the Bilston House and musically the CD is
instantly recognizable from his distinctive vocals and singer-songwriter
approach. Manning the multi-instrumentalist is very much in control here
performing most of the music, as well as writing and arranging the CDs
nine tracks. But as on previous recordings heís called upon Laura Fowles
(sax, vocals), David Million (lead guitar), Julie King (vocals) and Ian
Fairbairn (fiddles) to fill out the band. In addition, listed as guests
are the talents of The Tangentís Andy Tillison (keyboards) and Molly
Bloomís Steve Dundon (flutes).
The music has that familiar acoustic, folk-influenced foundation, but each of the CDís compositions is full of surprises. Take track 2 ďThe Calm AbsurdĒ (7:24) which has a very soft, light jazz, almost loungy style that is interrupted by more progressive moments where the keyboards dominate as the song builds in intensity punctuated by flute and saxophone before lazily falling back into the opening jazzy riffs. Most of the compositions fall into the slow to mid-tempo feel and strangely each starts off in a fairly non-traditional manner only to morph along the way into some very classy prog. By that I mean if all you were to do was sample the first few seconds of each track, you might come away from the disc with a completely wrong impression of whatís actually going on. Itís only by letting the music play out that you begin to hear the compositional complexity. Six of the nine songs are over 7-minutes with another over 10-minutes, leaving only two shorter pieces of around 6-minutes. As a writer of songs, long-songs, but songs just the same, Manningís craft revolves around developing strong melodies or riffs and then subtly moving and reshaping the piece as it moves along. This is best displayed on ďUnderstudyĒ (8:13) where the song goes through all kinds of musical change-ups creating tension and resolution but all the while never letting us lose the great melody heís injected into the piece. Starting out like a regular pop-song, by the end itís a classic example of grand, majestic symphonic prog. Other pieces like ďAnteresĒ (7:11) spend half of their run time with only acoustic guitars, fiddles and vocals in ballad form before suddenly shape-shifting into the more up-tempo middle section and then finishing in fine symphonic form with a return to the melodic theme. I donít hear a weak track in the bunch.
Fans of Manningís previous recordings or his work with The Tangent will know what to expect here and will not be disappointed. Iíve said this before, but when I listen to Guy Manning I canít help but think of the many other British singer songwriters such as Roy Harper or David Cousins because I think Manning clearly builds on that history. Songs from the Bilston House is a worthy addition to his catalogue. Full of great music and never boring, this disc will have a long-play life on any prog fans CD player.