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manning - The ragged curtain

Marks Review
Bob's Review

Guy Manning - The Ragged Curtain Country of Origin: UK
Format: CD
Record Label: Cyclops
Catalogue # CYCL 115
Year of Release 2002
Time: 68:04
Info Albums Page
Samples: Audio Page

Tracklist: A Ripple [from Ragged Curtains] (0:40), The Marriage Of Heaven & Hell - Tightrope (10:40), A Place To Hide (4:56), Where Do All The Madmen Go? (6:32), Stronger (5:33), What Is It Worth? (6:06), The Weaver Of Dreams (7:37), Ragged Curtains - (a) Flow, (b) Sea, (c) Waves, (d) Stone, (e) Tides, (f) Sand, (g) Undertow, (h) Ebb (25:55)

Mark 's Review

The latest project from Guy Manning's band of merry troubadours has the intention of producing a classic rock album. Containing just three pieces (although admittedly the first of these could be regarded as five separate songs linked by a common theme) there is more scope for instrumental passages giving greater space for the band members to shine through, both individually and collectively. Of particular note is the guitar work of Gareth Harwood whose playing throughout the album is sharp and concise but never over-stated. There are some rather nice twin lead guitar passages (at the end of Where Do All The Madmen Go? for example) where the playing of Gareth and Guy Manning compliment each other perfectly.
Overall, the album is replete with strong melodies performed in a variety of styles. The aforementioned Where Do All The Madmen Go? has a distinct reggae lilt to it, while Stronger starts with a simple synth line and programmed drums, gradually developing with additional of the other instruments and culminating in a fine saxophone solo by Laura Fowles. The melodic nature of the album is enhanced throughout by some excellent flute and recorder playing provided by Angela Goldthorpe from Mostly Autumn. However, the band still know how to rock and the tempo is raised at appropriate moments during the album such as on Tightrope, which features some great Hammond organ work and an overall sound which is reminiscent of the early work of Atomic Rooster, and sections of Ragged Curtains.
The opening track, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, is a suite of songs dealing with the complexities of relationships. Between each track there are snippets of interviews with various people giving their views on the subject of the development, progression and eventual ending of love affairs, which obviously draws parallels to the seminal Dark Side Of The Moon. But that is where the comparison between the two pieces end! Ragged Curtains is a well structured composition where all the individual sections flow seamlessly into each other. The characteristic organ and analogue synth work of Guy's ex-bandmate and Parallel or 90 Degrees main man Andy Tillison-Diskdrive is featured on a couple of sections and, unsurprisingly, these are the most traditionally progressive parts on the album. But generally, the song is a strong piece of writing with the band gelling well to provide light and shade throughout the piece.
Overall, The Ragged Curtain is the strongest material to be released by Manning/Guy Manning and is a significant step in the right direction in the quest to produce a classic album. My only real criticism are Guy's vocals which can tend to lack a degree of emotion and the intonation can be weak at times. However, I have to say that the album has grown on me over repeated listenings and each time the vocals have become less of a personal issue as there are some lovely musical passages throughout. If you are a fan of the band's previous work then this new album will not disappoint. It may very well open a few new doors.
In conclusion, The Ragged Curtain does not break any new ground but is a solid and enjoyable album all the same.

Bob 's Review

The third studio release from Manning, The Ragged Curtain, continues my re-education into the continuing history of progressive rock. Having been fortunate to witness the halcycon days, struggled through the long dark years and finally to be enlightened in the technology years. Living, as I do, in the UK and prior to the internet, I was convinced that prog had died and that the only treasures were my old collection, a few struggling heroes and those stalwarts that had survived the holocaust of Punk, New Romantic and other apathetic eras. Not wishing to digress too far and at Guy's expense, I would just like to add that the advent of the internet has revealed a whole network of great music not least of all this CD in front of me.
Anyway straight onto track eight and the Ragged Curtain. Track eight and you may well be wondering what happened to first seven, more on them later. I have chosen to start with the title track as it is this piece in particular that has lodged in my mind and prompted those opening remarks.
Without further ado, we start with the Flow, striking are the imaginatively written lyrics and truly infectious melody that opens this mini epic. This all too brief song has enjoyed numerous plays on my CD player and is something that I have not tired of, on the contrary it is one of those pieces I feel will remain with me throughout the years to come. The Flow moves us into the driving Sea, with its ever rising structure and repetitive riff, which is eventually released by the vocals. From here on the whole track meanders through varied textures and atmospheres in which a fine balance is maintained between the vocal sections and the instrumental passages. Splendid performances from all the musicians and not wanting to single out one particular musician above another, however, I would like to say how much I enjoyed Angela Goldthorpe's flute playing during this piece, adding a Tullian flavour to some of the passages. The individual track titles nicely capture the musical mood changes of each of the segments t
hat make up the Ragged Curtain. Mention here of the gentle vocal, acoustic guitar and light strings that make up the engaging Sand. The album finishes in fine style with a return to the opening Flow, this time with a full band arrangement in a distinctly Genesis-like refrain.
Now to the rest of the album and you may still be wondering why I started with the Ragged Curtain and does the rest of the CD live up to it. Difficult to say really, if I understood what so appealed to me about the title track I would be able to answer the question easily. There are immediate winners in the ballad like A Place to Hide and the wonderful lilting rhythms of Where Do All The Madmen Go. It is possible that Guy may wince at my next remark, but these two tracks did remind of Chris de Burgh (who in his early career did write some good material). Laura Fowles turns in a fine solo that captures the mood in the first of the tracks and the complementary string parts come to the party during the hugely melodic ending guitar section on Where Do All The Madmen Go. I concur with Mark's comments here, as Gareth Harwood's guitar playing is admirable throughout, the interaction between Guy and Gareth being a high point and a great outro to the song (bet this is fun live).
In fact the whole album is rich in musical performances and further examples can be found from start to finish. If I was to have any misgivings, it would be with one of my pet hates, the talking bits, thankfully confined to the opening bars of the early tracks. Many may disagree and see these as integral to song, but personally, I didn't care for them on the Pink Floyd or Genesis albums and I still don't, however I shall not labour the point further. On the surface this would not be an album I would have been drawn to review, as I tend to like my music to be more overtly complex with the emphasis on the instrumental side. All of which goes to show that one should always keep an open mind. I suppose one of the primary functions of a review is to either encourage, or discourage, the reader to buy the album. So the burning question is would I spend my hard earned cash on this album - Yes!


Mark Hughes - 7 out of 10
Bob Mulvey - 8+ out of 10