Manning - One Small Step


Year of Release: 2005
Label: ProgRock Records
Catalog Number: PRR139
Format: CD
Total Time: 57:43:00

British artist Guy Manning is back with his seventh release, One Small Step. To say this is a typical Manning release sounds uncharitable. But, in many ways it is. He has found a comfortable stylistic niche - and many, many artists do - using that as a backdrop against which he philosophizes, about internal and external matters.

On the other hand, this is perhaps one of his most engaging ... which is saying something, given that nearly every Manning release has been engaging. Somehow, and I'm not sure I can explain why or how, but he seems much more focused here than on past releases. It is much more intimate in the way the vocals are placed - there are really no big, epic sweeps here.

Back for the trip are Laura Fowles on sax ... amazing sax work, but then I'm a sucker for a well played saxophone. Other regular players Gareth Harwood (electric lead guitars), Ian Fairbairn (fiddle), Rick Ashton (additional bass and backing vocals) and Simon Baskin (drums consultant, so not a performer actually) are back as well. Jadis/IQ flutist Martin Orford is a special guest. We ought to count cover artist Ed Unitsky as another returning member, as his fabulous artwork is featured throughout the CD booklet and enhances and underscores the lyrics and music.

The music is incredibly lush - and maybe more lush than before - but also quite intimate, as I said. Manning is at the center, and all the colours of the instrumentation swirl about him, and appear as richly detailed as the above mentioned artwork, and yet translucent as well. Study the artwork and images and shapes suddenly reveal themselves; listen closely to the music and behind the main instruments, other elements reveal themselves - a bit of percussion, a keyboard effect. There is a great deal of sonic depth.

The album opens with "In Swingtime," a piece that Manning says was originally recorded as part of the Tall Stories... sessions, but was rerecorded for this release. It's a lush, upbeat, mid-tempo piece with lots of strummed guitar, swelling keyboards, subtle percussion. "Night Voices" is mellower, lullabye-like, but not quite. The title might have you thinking that Manning is again looking into his own psyche and his past experiences with anxiety attacks, but instead it "documents a dream in which a man encounters his recently deceased wife and is able to ask her all the questions he needs to know in order to move on," Manning says.

"No Hiding Place" is toe-tapping, sing-a-long rocker, with more electric guitar elements than acoustic - rocker in the Manning sense, at least; rockier than the two that came before. A proggy keyboard passage is featured also, one that will make you think of The Tangent and of The Flower Kings (so some Stolt has rubbed off, me thinks; to join the Tillison that already had). This section builds into a chaotic, swirling mass of screaming keyboards, screaming guitars, honking sax, and snappy drums -- all in Manning subtle way -- only coalesce again into those keyboards. Upbeat musically, yes, thematically ... Manning says, "This was partly inspired by the events in which the Beslan children were held hostage in a school gym in Sept. 2004. We watched on our TVs, helpless as these kids went through it, in fear of their lives ... it was a horrible spectacle. I began to wonder whether this was the end of innocence for these children? Had that time/'state of being' now been stolen, never to return or were they able to hang on to it somehow, burying it away inside them until it was over? I also realised that this was the same for all children that have suffered some type of abuse ... physical, sexual, etc. So this is a song for all the children going through torment ... hold on to your innocence (if you can) and hide it deep inside." (Satellite wrote about this same horrible incident in their "Beautiful World" piece on Evening Games).

The southwest is evoked in the uptempo "The Mexico Line" including rolling piano and fiddle. Screaming organ closes out the piece, with Fowles horn tone recalling - at least to me - Clarence Clemons'. Although, but for this one element, I don't think of Bruce Springsteen at all. If anything, I think of a peppier Boz Scaggs.

Then we get to the core of the album, the multi-part title suite. Although I have been listening to this the past couple of weeks, it is only now, as I sit down to write a review that some unrelated tangent of my life dovetails with this part of the album - and no, there was no pun or play on words intended there. That ... thread was an editorial in the March 2006 issue of Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine*, which arrived only a few days ago, where Joe Lazzaro writes about the X-Prize, that recent contest for $10,000,000US that would be awarded to the private company that could launch a spacecraft into low earth orbit, and then repeat it 14 days later. While I don't really know if space tourism will take off - there are already hundreds of folks paying thousands of dollars for that chance - it's the chance that that might come to be that Manning tackles in "One Small Step." It's not about space tourism per se, but about the fact that man has, for generations, looked to the stars and wondered what's out there? And will I ever get out there. You might surmise from the lyrics of "Star Gazing," the first part of the suite, that Manning had to be thinking of the iconic scene in 2001: A Space Odyssey... you know, where the bone the chimp tosses into the air becomes, generations later, a spaceship... because there is a lyric that says, "Are we all part of some great Universal plan / the great escape of the monkey into Man." But, before we can look outward, we must look inward... Are we, as a species, truly ready to colonize space? I mean, look at what we've done to this planet? Look at where we are at as a species. I'll leave it there for you to discover what message Manning leaves in this suite.

The title track is, as mentioned, broken into eight parts, beginning with the acoustic based "Star Gazing." While acoustic guitar predominates, and plays in mid-tempo fashion, in that mix are orchestral touches, piano, and organ. The same basic construction lasts throughout the suite's length, it may be slowed down, thickened up, or added to, but underneath, the core is the same throughline. "Star Gazing" leads into the vocally snappier, "argumentative" "For Example...;" instrumentally, it only the pace that picks up, Manning striking the guitar strings a bit harder. The pace darkens, slows, for "Man of God," the tone a bit darker, the orchestration just a bit more prominent. It is on this piece that Orford guests on his flute, playing dark, rich tones... and then later, lighter, breezier. Fiddle and a southwest seasoning come in for "A Blink Of The Eye," Orford's flute trilling softly, prettily. The companion piece to "Man Of God" is "God Of Man" - taking the same basic song, with fiddle being the accent instrument rather than flute. See this as the "warning" than man is on his way "out there."

At the point man - in Manning's scenario - is breaking the bonds of earth ("Black And Blue"), we get a sultrier, darker, and spacier arrangement. Electric guitar steps forward to play sinewy leads, matched by sax. The arrangement has a subtle churningness that reminded me of a leisurely "Have A Cigar"... and at times Manning's vocal delivery reminded me of David Bowie's "Space Oddity." This piece's arrangement is perfectly attuned to visuals of spaceflight - launchings and landings, shots of being weightless... makes me wonder if they weren't playing while Manning composed the music. The artwork that graces this page suggests much the same - Earth, astronaut, clouds, planets... very cool synergy between subject matter and sound... it romantic, and taps in to our romanticized vision of colonizing space. The suite is then concluded with "Upon Returning," which, um, returns us to where we began.

So, there we have the latest opus from Guy Manning. When all is said and done, we realize we have just another typical Manning release - that is, another winning album - warm, but not fuzzy; intimate but not syrupy; memorable, thoughtful without being heavy-handed; rich and lush without being overblown or pretentious.

As of this writing, you can read the editorial at www.asimovs.com/_issue_0603/Thougthexperiments.shtml.


Tracklisting:
In Swingtime (4:30) / Night Voices (5:56) / No Hiding Place (9:33) / The Mexico Line (7:02) / One Small Step (Parts I - VIII): Part I: Star Gazing (4:34) / Part II: For Example (3:03) / Part III: At The End Of My Rope (2:04) / Part IV: Man Of God (2:36) / Part V: A Blink Of The Eye (4:56) / Part VII: God Of Man (2:30) / Part VII: Black And Blue (7:26) / Part VIII: Upon Returning (3:28)

Musicians:
Guy Manning - vocals, keyboards, acoustic 6 & 12-string guitars, classical guitar, mandolins, electric guitar, bass, drums and percussion, kitchen sink
Laura Fowles - saxophones and vocals
Gareth Harwood - electric lead guitars
Ian Fairbairn - fiddle
Rick Ashton - additional bass and backing vocals
Martin Orford - flute
Simon Baskind - drums consultant

Discography:
Tall Stories For Small Children (1999)
The Cure (2000)
Cascade (2001)
The Ragged Curtain (2003)
The View From My Window (2003)
A Matter Of Life & Death (The Journal Of Abel Mann) (2004)
One Small Step (2005)
Anser's Tree (2006)
Songs From The Bilston House (2007)
Number 10 (2009)
Charlestown (2010)
Margaret's Children (2011)

Genre: Progressive Rock

Origin UK

Added: February 12th 2006
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Score:
Artist website: www.guymanning.com
Hits: 1159
Language: english

  

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