Track list: Walking In Cascade (5.42); By The Book
(A Pop Song) (6.19); Tears In The Rain (5.07); Catholic
Education (5.48); Hushabye Mountain (3.03); Lead Me Where You
Will (6.52); Flight 19 (5.55); The Night And The Devil (5.52);
Owning Up (5.41); The Time Of Our Lives (6.11); Winter (7.35).
It's been just over a year now since I explored Guy Manning's
previous work, 'The Cure' and, although we're running a little
behind the times here since 'Cascade' has already been available
for a while, I am delighted to say that this album represents
another very powerful offering.
Having explored the concept formula on his last outing, this
album has the more traditional singer / songwriter approach and
it is one that should carry wide appeal. For a start, Guy
Manning is one of those artists with a voice that it is
difficult not to like. His manner is easy going, his tones
soft and reassuring and the result is a sound that can
effortlessly wash over you, while at the same time still
managing to impart its message. The song writing itself often
seems to take a down to earth approach, and it is often very
easy to empathise with the feelings and moods conveyed. On
the occasions where the subject matter is perhaps a little more
obscure, there is still the joy of simply being part of the
experience while trying to figure out the underlying meaning!
Similarly the music itself is played in straightforward
fashion without undue fuss, for much of the time good use is
made of acoustic guitar with gentle keyboard backing, but he is
never afraid to crank up the power when it is appropriate to do
so ... And this is one of the beauties of this album: everything
is in proportion and well measured, creating a varied and subtle
mix with no room for ego trips or excess.
Although Guy himself seems to turn a hand to most things,
providing the main vocals as well as playing various guitars,
keyboards, bass, drums and mandolin he has, nevertheless,
assembled a first class team of musicians to
assist with the task at hand. The complete lineup includes
the talents of Laura Fowles (sax and vocals), Gareth Howard
(guitars); John Hobson and Simon Baskind (drums and percussion),
Jonathan Barrett (bass) and Neil Harris (additional keyboards).
Angela Goldthorpe of Mostly Autumn also puts in a welcome
appearance playing flute and recorders.
The first track 'Walking In Cascade' leads in with a
very brief spoken section with a slightly eerie backing that,
Twilight Zone-like, sets the scene nicely for what follows.
From here a soft repeating keyboard phrase forms the main
pattern on which the song is built, casting a spell which holds
you and does not let go. The vocals are delivered in a
drifting lazy manner, while hazy keyboard patterns, punctuated
by bass and percussion, create a warm restful ambience. Just as
you think it could not get better, it does and in the closing
section of the song we are treated to a beautiful saxophone
passage which is simply the icing on the cake!
'By The Book (A Pop Song)' on the other hand pushes in a very
different direction. This kicks off in a slightly raucous
manner with a ringing telephone followed by punchy drum beat
over which saxophone and then keyboards cut in. The main
body of the track is pretty up tempo, containing hints of the
kind of pop sound that emerged with some of the late
seventies, post-punk bands and the use of synth sounds in
particular has a Gary Numan flavour. Mixed in with this
are more overtly progressive references accentuated by heavy use
of the Hammond organ. Lyrically the song is quite
interesting, particularly in the way it makes use of many
familiar childhood images.
Less successful to my mind is 'Tears In The Rain', which
while it jingles along pleasantly with vocals and acoustic
guitar to the forefront, ultimately failed to grab my
enthusiasm. The main part of the song works well enough,
but the chorus grated and, were it not for the rather nice
mandolin playing adding a degree of texture, I think this would
have passed me by completely - but then you cannot expect to
like everything can you?
Any misgivings I may have been harbouring at this stage were
quickly laid to rest by 'Catholic Education'. This has an
insidious rhythm which I found to be vaguely reminiscent of
'Badge' by Cream. There are many dark undertones that seem
to run beneath the surface and the excellent use of violin
helps to reinforce these feelings. The synth sounds again
take us back to the late 70's and early 80's pop acts: in turn,
emphasising the brilliantly executed lead guitar work which,
while very understated, has a much heavier edge.
'Hushabye Mountain' had an immediate familiarity that caused
me to check the writing credits - and only on seeing that this
song is written by Sherman and Sherman did I realise why!
The song is a lullaby that was originally sung by Dick Van Dyke
(although feel free to correct me if I'm wrong here) in the film
'Chitty Chitty Bang Bang', but please don't let that put you off
in any way. This is a great song, and given the Manning
treatment it has a new lease of life. The musical box
effects and use of stirring orchestration make this a real joy
to listen to.
Right from the start 'Lead Me Where You Will' has a harder,
punchier feel with plunging bass line and swinging sax sounds.
The track features some very nice muted Hammond touches and the
addition of Laura Fowles' vocals provides a good contrast to
Guy's voice. Of particular note however is Angela
Goldthorpe's woodwind contribution, particularly in the latter
stages where this is set against a very melancholic violin
backdrop which works very well indeed.
One of my favourites on the album is 'Flight 19' - this song
deals with the disappearance of a flight of aircraft from the US
Naval Air Station at Fort Lauderdale in December '45 - which is
often cited as evidence for the existence of the Bermuda
Triangle, although thankfully this song does not deal in any
such speculation. The fact that many young men were lost
in what probably amounts to no more than a tragic accident forms
the basis of the song, and it delivers such a profound sense of
sadness as to be very moving. The sense of solemnity and
tragedy kicks in with the opening church organ sound - repeated
at key intervals - against which soft bass and percussion cut
in. The keyboards soon change to a more string oriented
sound before the level dies right down. As the vocals come
in the instrumental backing is initially kept to a minimum, but
as the song progresses the levels start to gradually pick up
once more, but it is always the vocals that hold the key to the
song and they are emphasised in fine style by the muted playing
Picking the spirits up again is the warming, bluesy sound of
'The Night And The Devil'. Hammond is used here to good
effect, and the song also makes nice use of backing vocals.
Once again the saxophone work on this track
stirs the soul but, as I have now come to expect from this
album, there are no over the top lead runs here, just confident,
well proportioned playing that adds to the overall sound without
stealing the limelight.
I am tempted to suggest that 'Owning Up' could be considered
as a modern day folk song - particularly in view of the acoustic
guitar and vocal style employed. Though I tend not to like
making direct comparisons to other musicians since this can so
easily create the wrong impression, I have to suggest that
anyone who frequented the Marquee in the early 80's and who
remembers Rog Patterson and Twice Bittern (or Twit Bison as they
were affectionately known) will be on pretty familiar territory
'The Time Of Our Lives' is one of those songs that can affect
you differently depending on how you choose to interpret it.
My interpretation of the song is that it is taking a look back
at the seemingly endless, carefree days of childhood - but
whether this is viewed in terms of fond nostalgia or with a
sense of regret for times that will never come again, is open to
question. I make this point because when listening to the
song the playing is such that it can evoke feelings of great joy
or sadness depending on what frame of mind you are in when you
approach the piece, a fact which I find both surprising and
Bringing the album to a close we come at last to 'Winter',
which combines all the best elements of what has gone before in
terms of keyboards, flute, saxophone, bass and percussion - not
to mention great vocal work, resulting in what for me was
a truly uplifting experience.
Having already given a big thumbs up to 'The Cure', I
have continued to be impressed by Guy Manning's output and, had
I heard this album in time, it would certainly have featured as
one of my top albums to be issued during 2001. This is a
beautifully rounded work, featuring well written songs that
really seem to strike a chord, and in the final analysis it is a
superb album to simply sit down and listen to. 'Cascade'
is another fine album from the Manning stable and it comes
highly recommended !
Simon 4th February 2002