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REVIEW OF - "ONE SMALL STEP..."
AXIOM OF CHOICE
 

Summary

Guy Manning moved from Cyclops to the American progrock label, releasing first A Matter Of Life And Death, and now One Small Step. With seven albums under his belt since 1999, this is one active musician. And in this the first one without Andy Tillison.

The music

In Swingtime brings us all the typical Manning elements: a soft, friendly alternative to Cousins of the Strawbs, with instrumentation akin to the likes of same Strawbs and Roy Harper, but with a modern symphonic rock slant. The first track also has some saxophone, and as always quite a bit of acoustics worked into the music. The vocal melodies are good, especially the one right before the chorus. Quite a bit of string work mixed in here too, synthetic but still.

Night Voices opens with dancing string synths, with quite a folky feel, and ballad like lyrics. The music stays subdued and subtle with a strong ear for melody, with an excellent melody reserved for the chorus, while the bridge has quite a different one, and in which a horn section enters the picture. But the music stays soothing. A Spanish style acoustic solo brings in some extra variation.

No Hiding Place continues the combination of acoustic guitar and symphonic and melodic elements, but compared to Night Voices in an up-beat fashion. This is quite a lenghty track with a small place of rest in the middle, as the song gathers its strengths to go all out again. However, Manning decides to go about it differently: we first obtain a very ELPish solo, followed by an electric guitar solo that moves from ear to ear. This is certainly very proggy with shards of sax intermixed and everything sounding rather free form and uncontrolled. At the end, the catchy chorus returns.

The Mexico Line opens with a countryish twang. The band is going acoustic, and quite a bit of violin is thrown in. For the remainder, the vocals of Manning are the dominant element. He has a bit of a tear in his voice this time. Their is space for some sax again, this time as a short solo spot, while the ending is dominated by sax and organ going at it together.

The epic of the album is One Small Step..., about thirty minutes long and divided into eight parts. Star Gazing opens with fast acoustic guitars and the melancholy voice of Manning. The vocal melody is again a good one, very recognizable. On For Example... Manning seems to become a bit angrier and the acoustic guitar turn more percussive, and indeed lyrically we have come to a less happy place (regarding the human race). The music is still acoustic guitar and vocals. At The End Of My Rope simply follows the line set, but with different vocal melodies and maybe a twinkle of keyboards, which set in more strongly at the end, serving as a string orchestra. Man Of God brings us back to the acoustically dominated vocally focused music, the pace stays low. The chorus on the other hand, is very melodic and instantly recognizable. There is even some flute here, in the instrumental sections in between, alternated with some sensitive violin playing. A Blink Of An Eye continues the somewhat somber but relaxed song with a strong accent on flute and some organ and violin still in the back. The violin playing reminds a bit of Stuart Gordon. The music is extremely romantic on this one. In God Of Man the melody of Man Of God returns, with the excellent vocal melody reigning, and the acoustic guitar in the backdrop, while the violin adds a sense of melancholy (as if the song needed it). On Black And Blue we move into a different field: that of a kind of blues in which sax wails along with the bluesy guitar, and the flute fiddles in the back. The vocal melodies are quite different, and although the music stays slow and languid, we finally do have some drums here. Upon Returning closes the epic and the album down in style.

Conclusion

Manning has delivered averaged an album a year since 1999, quite an accomplishment. On the surface, he has not changed his style that much, mainly due to his characteristic voice and the consistency of mix (no crunchy guitars, plenty of acoustic guitar and keyboards). On this album, violin, flute and sax play a rather strong role. As usual, the albums contains its share of memorable melodies. The feel of the album is rather melancholic, and subdued, few symphonic outbursts here, so if that is what you are looking for, look on.. Generally, the music is usually on the folk side of progrock, with hints of Tull, Strawbs and Roy Harper, with a bit of the modern Hammill thrown in (the Stuart Gordon like violin). His lyrics are usually of the reflective kind, reflecting on the situation in the world for example, and he can be aptly described as a modern day troubadour, something the prog world has only few of. That sets him aside, but also does not seem to bring him the accolades he deserves.

Jurriaan Hage