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 OK then where to start?  The latest release from Guy Manning and friends is, as usual, a fine listen.  The plot?  Well, the idea is pretty ambitious.  "Anser’s Tree" is a concept album, (or is it!), but each individual track tells its own story, linked by lineage of the characters of the unravelling history within.  Confused?  You won’t be once you listen, with CD notes in hand, everything is explained, the background of the stories outlined. 

Right enough of that, what about the music I hear you cry!  Typical Manning, if you can use such a phrase, existing fans will know that Guy’s music is anything but typical.  Jaunty Fiddle, flirtatious flute and sexy sax, sit alongside Guy’s distinctive emotion charged vocals, with total ease. 

The opening track Margaret Montgomery may well draw comparisons to Jethro Tull, but this could probably be down to the expression and phrasing expertly used by Stephen Dundon on flute!  The song itself is a Guy Manning song, hints of prog, folk, rock, engaging lyrics and superb melody.  That one phrase probably sums up the album, but not quite. 

As the stories (songs) take us on a journey through time the music changes, very slightly and subtly with each passing age.  Joshua Logan (1990-2048) is has the most electric feel.  Listen to the lyrics in this one, I challenge you not to smile! Wonderful stuff.   

Jack Roberts (1699-1749), starts gently wonderful use of the flute here, setting a mood.  Would like to hear this one with just Guy with his guitar and Stephen Dundon on flute!  Strong melody, with a hint of 'harp' moving into a more powerful musical section, with maybe a hint of Manfred Mann's Earth Band about the feel of the tune here! Then back into the wonderfully layered melody with haunting flute and then a sax climax, marvellous. 

William Barras (1803-1835), strong folk feel to the introduction, nearly clogs and Morrismen, but then it moves you down into the depths on an old coal mine.  The music paints a picture alongside the lyrics, the two blending to bring an amazing musical experience.  This is the longest track on the album and features some good musical interludes/breaks... moving through mood changes but never losing its central rhythm. 

Diana Horden (1900-1922) has an almost TV theme tune opening.  Weaving an intricate yet brutal tale about young Diana's demise.  Slightly darker in a musical sense, with haunting hammond but with an uplifting acoustic guitar break backed again my some subtle flute. 

Prof. Adam Logan (2001-2094) has one of those hooks that just gets into your head and you find yourself humming along. This ‘catchy’ element sitting alongside a more obviously progressive musical passage in a way that only Mr Manning seems to orchestrate  with such ease. 

The closing track, Dr. Jonathan Anser (2089 - ?) is probably the darkest lyrically but the music haunts rather than saddens, not gloom laden but a warning of doom? 

A stand out track?  For me there isn’t one, each track has it’s own merits, each stands proudly independent of the rest but fits within the overall concept with remarkable simplicity. 

The album shows that there is an alternative to wailing guitar, over extended keyboard noodlings and monotonous drumming. 

As always music for the mind as well as the ear.  

Nice one Guy, what's next?

Paul Baker

ARfm Soundscapes