DR D B SILLARS from Luton, Bedfordshire United Kingdom
This album was my top choice of last year as best progressive rock album. So what makes this stand out from the competition, which last year was pretty good? Well, since 1999 Guy Manning has produced five albums for the British independent progressive rock label, Cyclops. Each album beautifully showcased his distinctive mixture of classic English progressive rock, with folk, jazz and other elements to produce song writing of such individual character and depth. But with this latest album, his song writing has reached astonishing new heights of quality and beauty.
When Cyclops lacked the funds to release his latest album, he searched valiantly for another outlet. Having secured a deal with American label ProgRock, he could at last release "A Matter of Life and Death". And it was worth it. This is a perfect culmination of everything Guy is good at. Beautifully constructed songs, with rich, full melodies augmented with excellent playing from himself and all concerned. Guy is a superb multi-instrumentalist, tackling various guitar and keyboard duties as well as drums. Though to be clear Manning is a band venture. Guy is more than ably supported by Laura Fowles on sax , Gareth Harwood on guitars and Rick Ashton on bass. Guy has also employed other instrumentalists to add fiddle, melodica and cello, embellishing the rich musical tapestry on show here.
The basis for the album is the story of Abel Mann a character first introduced in a song on an earlier album. As he sits at his desk reading his journals, each song represents his life experiences. There are many nautical references which pervade this album and water, rivers, sailing act as continuing themes throughout. The story is superbly illustrated by the gorgeous album artwork of Ed Unitsky who also produced the artwork for both Tangent albums, a project which Guy is also part of.
The opening track, "The Dream" is a corker. What a way to open an album. This superbly rousing rocker has a chorus to die for. Excellent use of string synths to give a very full, symphonic feel and nice moog solo by Andy Tillison too. "The River of Time" has a haunting, dreamlike quality to it, made more so by Laura Fowles slightly creepy vocals. But the highlight is undoubtedly, "Out of My Life". This is a classic. With an excellent instrumental section, full of synths and Laura Fowles strident sax playing, this is so wonderfully arranged and developed. Superb! The album closes with "Midnight Sail", pure rock and roll!
The song writing and performances on this album are so strong and consistent throughout. Not a weak track in sight. It is a true joy to listen to this. On the evidence on this and Guy's other albums, it's a complete mystery why Guy Manning is not more widely known and appreciated, not just within the prog rock community, but his appeal as a singer/songwriter is so much wider that anyone interested in carefully crafted, quality song writing will find lots to enjoy here. He has already started work on his next opus, "One Small Step..." Can't wait!