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Jerry Lucky - Progressive Ears

The new release from Guy Manning, who simply goes by the name Manning took me a bit by surprise. There were times I thought I was listening to the Strawbs, other times I was reminded of Stealers Wheel and other times still it was vaguely reminiscent of some of Roy Harper’s work. What was I was actually hearing was a sound that has come to have a long standing tradition with British singer songwriters. Each of them brings a similar approach to their work and it is easily heard on Manning’s new CD entitled One Small Step.

For those who don’t know, Guy Manning has been creating progressive rock since 1999 and One Small Step is his 7th release. Some of you will know him from those previous efforts, others of you will recognize Manning’s name from various one off projects he’s been involved with over the years and still others will recognize his name as a member of the band The Tangent. On this release he’s not only singing but also playing a host of instruments including guitars, keyboards and drums but he’s also assisted by Laura Fowles (sax, vocals), Gareth Harwood (guitar), Rich Ashton (bass) and Martin Orford (flute).

One Small Step is a collection of songs directly inspired by the wonderfully original artwork of Ed Unitsky that graces the booklet in this release. You’ve likely seen Unitsky’s work for such groups as the Tangent and the Flower Kings. It is intricately ornate and loaded with computer enhanced collage work of a very surrealist nature. It’s truly beautiful and easy to see how the various images could inspire a writer to compose around them.

The CD is just under an hour and features four songs clocking in at 4, 6, 9 and 7 minutes before launching into the eight part title track “One Small Step” that stops the clocks at just over 30 minutes. There is a decidedly acoustic feel to the whole listening experience, and while there a number moments where the electric guitar shines, I’m still left with a very folk influenced prog feel here. And while that took a number of listens for me to warm up to, I have to say that Manning’s ability to craft hook laden melodies is what kept me coming back. The music is not overly complex, it simply wasn’t meant to be. Instead the listener is treated to compositions that are arranged section by section, building one theme upon another. This is particularly true of the long, winding, and weaving title cut, “One Small Step.”

If you’re already a fan of Manning’s previous work, or perhaps a fan of the artists mentioned at the outset you’ll find much to enjoy here. But even if you’re a first timer, this is a great place to start your collection. The longer pieces built on lyrically involving story telling are a strong calling card. One Small Step has way of sneaking up on you and winning you over. And that’s exactly why I’m calling it a winner.