DR D B SILLARS from Luton, Bedfordshire United Kingdom
After last years almost perfect “A Matter Of Life
and Death”, my expectations for this new album were very high indeed. I really
thought that Guy would have a hard job equalling, never mind bettering the
quality of songwriting and playing on that disc. But he has and how! Whereas “A
Matter of Life and Death” was rigidly structured and very electric, “A Small
Step...” is looser and more acoustic. The opener, “In Swingtime” does indeed
swing. A rousing start with a typical Manning chorus that is ever so catchy.
Laura Fowles sax is a key feature here and of course Guy’s distinctive vocal
tones are ever welcoming. The following “Night Voices” is achingly haunting,
written about a friend but echoes to us all who go through painful personal
experiences in life. “No Hiding Place” is the most overtly progressive piece. It
has an excellent instrumental section with synths and saxes well to the fore.
“The Mexico Line” is another rocker before entering the centrepiece of the
album, the 30 minute title track. This ambitious piece is made up of a suite of
eight interlinked songs, each one flowing seamlessly from one into the next. As
the title suggests this epic composition explores the idea of man looking to the
future of travel into space as a potential holiday destination, but are we ready
yet. As a race, what baggage would we take with us? Guy uses his trusty acoustic
guitar throughout the interlinking songs, keeping the arrangements basic using
slight embellishments with mellotron, organ, flute (played by IQ’s Martin
Orford) and suchlike throughout. It’s only when the track reaches the “Black and
Blue” section does the full band come in. It’s a bold move using such simple,
acoustic instrumentation over such a lengthy piece. But Guy’s deft handling of
the different lyrical themes and strong compositional skills ensure that the
listener’s attention never wavers. The rich musical themes are what we have come
to expect from Guy and “One Small Step...” may be his crowning achievement to
Special mention must go to cover artist Ed Unitsky. This BeloRussian artist is quickly establishing himself a strong reputation through his sleeves for The Tangent and The Flower Kings amongst others. For this and Guy’s previous album Ed’s vivid use of colour, typography and images linked to the lyrical content of each song which graces the CD booklet brings to mind the wonder and excitement I remember from youth as I would peruse the gatefold sleeve of a classic album cover by the likes of Roger Dean. This is beautiful, fantastical design which is seen all too rarely today.
So all in all this latest album is more than a fitting follow up to “A Matter Of Life and Death”. Though Guy Manning is considered to be working within the progressive rock arena, he has clearly shown from this and previous albums that his songwriting is far broader than that genre may imply. His style is now so well defined and he is such a distinctive, intelligent composer and storyteller that his name can be added to that list of maverick British artists who have travelled their own, inimitable path such as Nick Drake, Richard Thompson, John Martyn, Roy Harper and Peter Hammill. He is truly one of the great voices in modern songwriting and should be championed as such. So go on, take that “One Small Step…” and experience something really special.
Five stars without hesitation!