Manning - The View From My Window
Cat. No.: CYCL 136
Total Time: 56:09
Reviewed by: Stephanie Sollow, May 2004
The View From My Window is an album of music for those who love music. Not just prog, music, and the power of music. Well, let's leave this caveat – if metal or rap are your (only) thing, then Guy Manning won't be to your taste -- though, editorializing, in the case of the latter, Manning would improve it.
Nevertheless, View… is full of music that will download itself to your internal stereo system and stay there, coming on when you least expect it – and this is a good thing. Mainly, it will be Guy Manning's soft, understated delivery that will remain – a voice that sounds a bit like Ian Anderson and, at least to my ears, a bit like Boz Scaggs. In fact, there are times during View… where the mid-to-late 70s came to mind and artists like Steely Dan and Boz Scaggs. Maybe it's the slightly jazzy colourings heard here and there, mostly strongly in the sax of Laura Fowles.
And yet, what really comes to mind is the warm, comfortable feeling that their sound had. That warmth is here on View…. Even during the sometimes off kilter – and built that way – "Suite: Dreams," which has moments that aren't quite as warm – still a great track, though. There is an immediacy and intimacy in Manning's delivery, though he seems unhurried. Helping Manning create this atmosphere are, along with Fowles, Rick Ashton on bass, Gareth Harwood on electric guitars, and on various tracks, Andy Tillison on organ, piano, synth and drums, Pav Chana on percussion, Hugh Whitaker on drums and percussion, and Tim Moon on flute, fiddle, whistles, and cello.
In as much as progressive rock is accessible -- which is to say, often it is not --, The View From My Window is very accessible. That doesn't mean there isn't artistry in Manning's compositions; just that, well, you don't need to find some angle from which to appreciate the music. It's there, enveloping you and drawing you in. And the mix is quite rich, as you might have guessed from the list of instruments used. Lush keyboards are often prominent, but not at the expense of guitar, bass, drums, etc. Manning also plays acoustic guitar on various tracks, adding another layer of warmth. Manning is no more intimate than on "After The (Tears In The) Rain," a piece that begins with sparse instrumentation – rich and resonant acoustic guitars and voice mainly. For the bridge, Manning is joined by Moon on cello and Tillison on piano all making this a stunningly beautiful piece – and here is where, vocally, Anderson comes to mind. And Manning ventures into smooth jazz with "Blue Girl" – okay, the sax that opens the piece is what gives one that impression. Don't worry, there's more to the track than that comparison indicates – but on the other hand, not all smooth jazz is bad. Really, it's not. And the sax that solos in this piece – let me just say, I love the sound of a saxophone played well and Fowles plays very well. Killer!
The View… is one solid track after another beginning with "Phase (The Open & The Widening Sky)," a musically upbeat and uptempo piece (a toe-tapper for sure) with a chorus that, as I said, will affix itself permanently in your mind. Listen carefully for all the "little" details, the great organ work from Tillison, guitar work from Harwood (each with a sweet tone that will take you back to the days of classic rock) and, ah, that terrific sax from Fowles. It's a big track, closing on a vast and epic passage… reflecting the…well, open and widening sky. What a great way to open and album, leading you to wonder… to anticipate what comes next.
It seems a little vague to say that "The View From My Window" is the proggiest track on the album, aside from the epic "Suite: Dreams" but there are so many "classic prog" touches here, that it's hard not make that statement. The keyboards recalled for me The Flower Kings, who, of course, owe their sound to prog bands of yore. It opens with lots of heavy percussion, moody keyboards, all with a distinctive Middle-Eastern accent… and electric guitar. These give way to acoustic guitars and breathy, muted, string-like keyboards all providing a sunny rhythm to a track that can viewed as pessimistic… at least reserved skepticism.
"The Rut" is a darkly throbbing, slowly grinding piece that puts bass and percussion right up front, again with a lot of keyboard touches and some sultry guitar leads.
"Suite: Dreams," as the title more than suggests, is a suite in six parts, beginning with the lovely, mellow "Dreamian Rhapsody" that blends seamlessly into the softly jazzy "On The Carousel," which builds into… well, I imagined something like a slightly less sinister version of Something Wicked This Way Comes. You get the vision of a carousel, but your image then turned askew (this effect provided by keys). By "In Slumbers" we get something very Mid-Western, due to Moon's fiddle here, leading into something a little more classical, proggy, and one point Latinesque with the two instrumentals "A Visit To The Sandman" and "R.E.M." There's so much going on in these three sections that you have to just hear it yourself… this is a band jamming with a purpose, and making it all seem so easy and natural. At various points, namely "From Slumbers," I thought for a moment of Pink Floyd's "Us And Them," only played a little more lively. And, though it would take a lot of explaining, I thought of ELP circa Black Moon and "Footsteps In The Snow" (in Manning's delivery) only a little more lush and rich and animated.
My view is that Manning, man and band, have come up with another winner. It's great to hear music as rich and satisfying as this. And, just to make sure there's no doubt: highly recommended.
More about The View From My Window:
Track Listing: Phase (The Open & The Widening Sky) (7:23) / The View From My Window (9:07) / The Rut (8:04) / After The (Tears In The) Rain (5:18) / Blue Girl (6:14) / Suite: Dreams: i) Dreamian Rhapsody – ii) On the Carousel – iii) In Slumbers – iv) A Visit To The Sandman – v) R.E.M. – vi) From Slumbers (20:03)