|Manning - Cascade|
Cat. No.: CYCL 105
Total Time: 64:11
Reviewed by: Stephanie Sollow, December 2001
There's quite a bit I want to say about Cascade, as I find there something that needs to be said about every track here. Guy Manning is a subtle artist. You don't just listen to his CD once or twice. It's music that needs time. You need to be able to sit off somewhere with it and the lyrics, listening to it over and over again. There are nuances here that get lost on the first couple of listenings. But on the other hand, the music is fairly accessible. Manning has a poetic way of writing that seems to neatly distill a thought, an idea, or expression into just a few words -- in a less obscure way, a lot like Fish did/does. When so many are decrying the paucity of substance in many of today's "top artists," even those who still seem to have retained some artistic credibility, it's shame that Guy Manning hasn't been able to fill that gap. That is, hasn't been allowed to fill that gap. I'm thinking particularly of Sting, though I'm not sure he fits in the "paucity of substance" category. And no sooner do I think of him in the abstract, that I think of him in the concrete in connection with the song that is playing, "Winter." (which I mention again a-way down there). There is that cool jazz feel about this song ... making "Children's Crusade" come to mind, though I can't pin any specific reason on it. But I think of Sting's early work, and I think of Manning. I think of artists I'll mention later, I think of every noted singer/songwriter and think that Manning should be said in the same breath. And why isn't he? This I can't explain, because his music doesn't have the "baggage" that his label-mates might, doesn't have the "baggage" of sounding like Yes or Genesis or Pink Floyd ... bands whose early work still gets some grudging respect (okay, maybe only Yes and Floyd get that), but otherwise make the mainstream press shy away. Classic radio will play Yes and Floyd, of course, but only certain songs. Yes, that's all been said before, I know.
Anyway, Cascade can't be summed up in a single sentence -- and when do I ever do that anyway? -- or really in a single review. So, in broad strokes, one can say that Manning still sounds a bit like Ian Anderson, but not always (mostly I think of the vocalist from the seemingly short-lived World Party). For instance, it isn't Anderson that he sounds like on "By The Book (A Pop Song)," which is exactly what the parenthetical text says - a pop song. It's energetic, lively, with a very upbeat rhythm, with a perky keyboard solo from Manning while additional keys, percussion, and bass percolate underneath. There is so much energy bundled up in this section that I can almost imagine that when it ends, Manning let out an exhausted sigh (though there's few calm moments to end the song). Artists that came to mind, but necessarily for a specific reason, were Steve Winwood, Billy Joel and Elton John. Well, I guess a specific reason, in they all play keyboards of some sort or another, but there's nothing here similar to Joel or John, though the lead keyboard's tone did make me think of that used by Winwood in the Spencer Davis Group's "Gimme Some Lovin'". If you think about the energy in that song and up it a notch or two, you have an idea of where Manning goes with "By The Book."
Manning makes interesting music, such that just when you think you know where it's going, it goes somewhere else. It isn't avant-garde or difficult music, as it's quite accessible. That shouldn't be read as bowing to commercial considerations, of course. It's accessible because Manning's approach is open. He wants to let you into the little bit of the world that he's sharing. You don't have to ask yourself, now how do I approach this, and yet, you do. If you go into it expecting the Marillion influenced prog made by the other artists on the Cyclops label, then you will find something quite different. And yet, saying that, there is the dark, haunting intro to "Hushabye Mountain" that sounds as if it could have been an Arena/Nolan piece. I'm not sure if this is the effect that Manning was trying to achieve, though the piece is credited to Richard M and Robert B Sherman. The song is a dark lullaby.
Haunting in a different way is "Flight 19." This song, just from the tone and feeling in it alone is a very sad song; a sense of loneliness and isolation permeates through it. Maybe it's the extended flute-like tones (recorder?), the harp-like tones... A bleating sax gives "Lead Me Where You Will" a funky feel, contrasted with the husky Stevie Nicks-like vocals of Laura Fowles -- incidentally, it's her on the sax, too. Mostly Autumn's Angela Goldthorpe guests here on flutes and recorders. The track is mostly instrumental however -- with throbbing keys; sweet, melancholy strings... there is a sexiness about this track that might surprise long time fans. Lyrically, it is a conversation between Satan and Eve in Eden.
"The Night And The Devil" is a bluesy number ... "Owning Up" is gentle, reflective... "The Time Of Our Lives" is as well, with an old-world feel that recalls the open fields and open skies that Manning sings about (both France and Italy come to mind) --- this track is quite beautiful, in fact. And very, very melancholy... "Winter" begins subdued, but soon explodes like a dervish sudden taken by a fit of whirling, only to settle down into a dance.
So, here I am, at the end of a lengthy review (though probably about average length for me) and I still don't feel like I've covered enough. If you care about music and the power it has to communicate on various levels, then I heartily recommend Cascade to you. It is beautiful, interesting, moving, thought-provoking, danceable (in spots), relaxing, energizing, reflective, moody...basically, just about everything you'd look for music. Oh, maybe you can sum it up in one sentence.
More about Cascade:
Track Listing: Walking In Cascade / By The Book (A Pop Song) / Tears In The Rain / Catholic Education / Hushabye Mountain / Lead Me Where You Will / Flight 19 / The Night And The Devil / Owning Up / The Time Of Our Lives / Winter
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