Number 10. Ten albums in Ten years, number Ten Downing street on the cover, and Ten out of Ten for an energy level and a production rate that would leave most artists breathless.
In a discussion with Guy, we opened by saying that "Guy Manning writes music with a purpose". His lyrics make sense, have depth and meaning, and we appreciated the fact that he avoids the esoteric cop-out that is so popular among his contemporaries. The songs in Number 10 stand alone, rather than converging on any central theme or concept. But they have sensible, audible lyrics and clear messages in common - with themes ranging from lost love through cynicism through romantic and philosophical introspection.
"An Ordinary Day" is a standout, celebrating the underestimated value of an ordinary day. It starts with vocals over a pastoral piano, and over its 6 minutes it swells gently with the introduction of more instruments, before it slowly fades into a gently receding piano line. Delicate, very pleasing, and a nice contrast to the upbeat, jaunty tone of many other tracks on this release. Another high point is the 10-plus-minute "A Road Less Travelled". A constantly developing piece that starts gently, builds up gradually, and about half way through it morphs into a rich, multi-layered wall of sound before easing up, and returning to its opening theme.
Himself a talented multi-instrumentalist, Manning has - as usual - recruited a more or less consistent list musicians who contribute tremendous depth and musicianship to the album. Thankfully, Laura Fowles's fluid sax is a Manning-constant, and his other guests provide electric guitars, backing vocals, bass, keyboards, fiddle, flute, tenor sax, soprano sax, bass clarinet, and drums. But that impressive array of instruments wouldn't work without skillful songwriting, and it is here that Manning excels. His music has always been characterized by strong melodies, clear references to the Genesis / Yes / VdGG era, a slightly jazzy edge, strong contributions by saxes, Hammonds and Synths, and his distinctive mid-range vocals. Number 10 continues in that tradition. Production standards are high courtesy in part of long-time collaborator and contributing keyboardist Andy Tillison (The Tangent, Parallel Or 90 degrees, and others), and 8 songs in 63 minutes yield a proggy average of nearly 8 minutes a track - plenty of time for each song to develop a distinct character, build its themes, insert rich instrumental bridges, and present the listener with a composition rather than just a song.
The only departure from Manning's regular one-a-year production rate stems from frequent comments - including those in the hallowed pages of Sea Of Tranquility - about his year-end releases being too late to hit the annual "best-of" lists. Hopefully, Number 10 won't be too early - and will remain on reviewers' lists for the rest of 2009. Despite the timing issue, Manning has several entries in our annual best-of lists.
By all accounts Manning's live performances are memorable, and American festival organizers would benefit from his appearance west of the pond. Guy has a very dedicated, growing fanbase, which would easily justify that investment.
Reviewer: Duncan Glenday
Score: 4.5 / 5