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Guy Manning did say he was going to take a bit of a break after releasing “Ansers Tree”, but it would appear that a visit to Bilston for Summer’s End Festival 2006 may have been partly responsible for inspiring probably the most accomplished and, dare I say, complete Manning album to date.

The music is just superb, all of the qualities that endears Manning to their fans are there, power, melody, strong vocals, strong guitar moments, great keyboards and of course the wonderful sax, flute and violin that make Manning tunes stand out from the crowd. From the full on rocker of ‘Icarus & Me’ to the modern progressive masterpiece that is ‘Skimming Stones’.

Where to start with the album?  Nine tracks, all between 6-10 minutes long.  Yes this is a progressively influenced album, unashamedly so to my ears.  However Guy does something different, the music sounds alive, it fits today’s ‘trends’ while still allowing a loving glance backwards without getting over sentimental about glories of the past. The lyrics all tell a story, no throw away lines here, the words are as much a part of the music as the instruments so expertly played.

The album opens with ‘Songs From The Bilston House’, straight away the lyrics grab you and you have to listen. A super album opener, strong up tempo with everything you’d expect from a Manning track.

The biggest positive from this album is that there are no ‘stand out tracks’, they all have something about them, they are all strong, they all get the feet tapping or draw you in to sit back listen to and absorb the moods and textures that they bring.

‘Pillars of Salt’ is a mini epic at over ten minutes, but it doesn’t feel like a ten minute track it moves and engages from start to finish, as does the whole album.  The beautiful ‘Antares’ sees Guy slowing things down a bit, but it is still an engaging track, showing that beauty and power can sit happily side by side, violin and flute adding that extra sprinkle of star dust magic.

If pushed, I would say that, at the moment, ‘Understudy’ is my favourite track from the album. From the soaring guitar and pounding drum opening, through the opening vocal passages, this song develops into a stunner.  In danger of repeating myself, but this has all the elements that any Manning or rock fan could want. Can’t wait to hear this one live, brilliant, catchy sing-along type moments interspersed with guitar and keyboard interplay, try keeping still to this one, simply marvellous.

In short, a superb album, Guy has a gift in that you almost instantly feel ‘at home’ with the songs, their impact is instant, however, when you revisit each one you find something new.  This is, in my opinion, probably the, I want to say, ‘heaviest’ but that doesn’t describe it correctly, maybe the most powerful album to date from this master song smith  would be more fitting.

Paul Baker 23/09/2007