Okay, my full review is done:
The Dream opens up Guy Manning’s new CD “A Matter Of Life and Death”. It has an Alan Parsons sort of rhythm section that makes me think of Turn Of a Friendly Card. As someone who has not heard lots of Guy Manning before this, it took me awhile to decide what the vocals remind me of. Finally it hit me, Ian Anderson from the “Broadsword” era. Not to say the music reminds me of this, but you can really hear Anderson in these vocals.
The Dream is a good way to kick off a CD. It almost acts like an overture with lyrical themes that will be reused throughout the album. Ian Fairbain and Tim Moon add nice Violin and Cello (respectively) to this song. The strings really fill out the song. The Moog (played by Andy Tillison) is the touch that makes this song work.
A Spanish guitar opens track 2 (Nobody’s Fool). I have seen others describe this as “Songwriter” prog. This song is a prime example. The song would fit on an old 70s Eric Anderson album, but since it is the real introduction to the hero of the story, it works more like the first “solo” in a musical. I have become a huge fan of Rick Ashton’s bass playing and this song misses it. I do not see where anybody is playing a reed instrument so someone did an amazing job with the syth-programming because I swear there is a clarinet solo in this song.
The third song (Omens) gets us back to rock, and either Mr. Manning’s guitar or Gareth Haywood have a Gilmour-type line going through the intro, but then seem to disappear for most of the song, playing just a few fills here and there. Another resemblance to the singer/songwriter style of not clouding the vocals with too much background instrumentation. This is a great melodic tune with a catchy chorus.
River of Time takes us back to a mellower place. This is Laura Fowles’ best background vocals. She adds a perfect haunting element to compliment the acoustic guitar work. This song is crying out for a Tillison counter melody running off and deflecting the main theme. The piano solo in the middle is a good example, but acts as a bridge instead of a counter melody. The strongest point of this song is the lyrics. Concept or no-concept, treating time like a tangible being that “feeds on emotion, demands our devotion, and sucks all our innocence dry” leaves you a little haunted.
After River of Time I was hoping that Track 5 (Silent Man) would be a play on words, and I was right. Very little silent about this as Guy breaks out the Mandolin and Rick Ashton walks the bass up and down the verses. My third favorite song on the CD. I have no idea how this song fits into the story line, but hey, I usually miss that point anyways. This song has another vocal section that reminds me of Ian Anderson (heavy horses, singing over the fiddle of Fairbairn). You will sing along with this song after only the first listen.
I was hoping the rock would continue with Falling Down, Rising Up? But was not so rewarded. But Mr. Manning knew what he was doing with another surprise waiting. The songwriter prog vein re-introduces itself and we put away the fiddle and bass and are treated to a pretty piano driven song. As the name implies it really is a two part song where the lament of ones mistakes dominates the first part and the resurrection of purpose closes it out. A serious Jazz baseline drives the song into part 2. The sax work of Fowels also lends to the Jazz feel of Rising Up. This still is a keyboard (Piano and Electric Keys) driven song but the jazz feel made me hit replay as it slipped back into the slower part of the song for closing.
Song 7 (Life’s Disguises) could of replaced One White Duck off of Minstrel In the Gallery and no one would of known the difference. The playing, the singing, the lyrics, everything reminded me of acoustic Tull.
The “proggiest” song appears in Out Of My Life. I know it just typed it, but I have no idea what that means. It just feels like what I like in my progressive rock. From the Floyd sax opening, to the power lyrics of the intro, to the keyboards taking over and having both a melody and counter melody going on. The bass work again is impressive. By far my favorite track on this CD.
Mr. Manning saves the biggest surprise for last. After the fun song of Out Of My Life, we given a classic AOR rock and roll song. It really reminds me of Fish’s Internal Exile where you are surprised to hear Something In The Air. Midnight Sail is a great song though, but just a surprise. It makes you think Guy and the Band could do anything they wanted to and make great music out of it.
If you are looking for The Tangent or other such prog-CDs that Mr. Manning has performed on, you might be a little disappointed. If you are looking for song-based music that has enough twists to keep you interested for almost an hour, than this is the perfect CD. It is hard to give an x out of 10 since nobody really knows what the means anyways. Let me give you my rating system. This CD will probably be in the top 20 replays this year (of the 1000+ CDs I own). That ought to tell you how much I like it.
Great work Mr. Manning.