Any review of Manna/Mirage is going to look back to The Muffins, the Canterbury influenced quartet founded by Dave Newhouse (keyboards, reeds), Billy Swan (bass) and Michael Zentner (guitar, violin) all the way back in 1973. Named after The Muffins’ debut album, Manna/Mirage released their debut in 2015 with Dave being joined by Billy and Paul Sears from the line-up which released 2012’s ‘Mother Tongue’. However, for the 2018 ‘Rest of the World’ it was now just Dave with additional musicians, many of whom have continued through to this their third album.
Dave provides keyboards, woodwinds, and saxophones on this release, and apart from the final song everything on the album is instrumental. Dave is renowned for providing Canterbury-influenced progressive rock for well over 40 years and he is showing no sign at all of changing now. He can also be found working in The Moon Men with Jerry King, who is one of the returning musicians, providing bass and other instruments. Musically this sounds like a mix of Henry Cow, Caravan, Soft Machine, Zappa and even Can, heading deep into the avant-garde to create something where there may be repeated melody, or there may not. It may contain delicate keyboards, or it may not. The woodwind may be taking the lead, or guess what? It may not. The result is a musical journey where one is never quite sure where the end is going to be, but it is always way more interesting to follow a road less travelled than the highway everyone else uses. It may take longer, but in the end, it is always more fulfilling, and life is all about the journey. This is an album which should only be played when the listener really has the time to fully immerse themselves, to focus intently on the music, preferably by playing it on headphones.
It is hard to pick a favourite, as each song is as intriguing as the next, but I am glad that “Fly Away” is at the end of the album as it is so very different indeed to what has gone before, with swirling piano and delicate vocals. In many ways it is out of place with what has gone before, which also makes it a perfect ending, as it is this lack of conformity throughout the album which makes it such a delight. This conforms most strongly with numbers which could be viewed as commercial, and therefore is a massive contrast to everything else, so therefore fits the overall rationale of the album, if that makes sense. This is something which all lovers of Canterbury-style Prog need to discover at once, if not sooner.
Maryen has something of a wanderlust, so although some people will always associate her with albums released in Australia, while others will think of her times with Fish and others in the UK progressive scene in the UK, it may surprise those who have not been following her travels to hear that she days she lives in Guernsey, moving there from Australia a few years ago. She was looking into the folk history of the island and heard about a lane where bodies had been thrown over the cliffs, screams could be heard at night, and there was even an exorcism performed! This intrigued her further, so she decided to find out where it was, only to discover it was a lane she regularly walked, which made her feel a little uncomfortable, and the song followed soon afterwards.
Most of this was recorded at home, with additional instrumentation added remotely, before Chris Kimsey produced, mixed, and mastered it front home. I have always enjoyed Maryen’s voice, ever since I first came across her music nearly 30 years ago, and here the combination of that with repeated piano chords and staccato bass runs creates a very other worldly and weird presence. She has really managed to capture the feeling of spookiness, and one can imagine this fitting in well with a remake of “Casper” or movie of similar ilk. Even the scraper percussion adds an additional element, so it all combines together to create something which is fresh, folky, yet also with a rather strange edge which can only make one think of ghosts even before paying attention to the lyrics. Let us hope it is not too long until Maryen graces us with a full album, but until then this single is highly recommended.
This is the second album from Marquette, the brainchild of keyboard player, Markus Roth who is probably best known for Horizontal Ascension (melodic prog rock) and Force of Progress (instrumental prog, metal, jazz fusion). His approach to this album is to reduce the number of notes being played in the instrumental sections to give it a more mainstream sound, and while the debut was a two-man project with associated guests he says that it has now become more of a group. Although not a concept album as such, it was inspired by the life of Christopher McCandless who travelled through the US with minimal equipment and no money in a quest to become one with nature, and apparently starved to death in Alaska aged just 24.
I know this has been receiving good reviews in some areas, but I cannot help thinking that the best thing about this release is the artwork, which is quite powerful. There are long instrumental sections, which are preferable to the vocals as Maurizio Menendez sometimes sings in a style that is almost talking, and this just does not work for me at all. But musically this contains sections which are almost muzak, often repetitive, and frequently feel forced and laboured. If Roth really has made a conscious effort to make this more palatable to a wider audience, then he really should not have bothered. There are undoubtedly some great musicians playing on this, but for me it really does feel like an opportunity wasted as there is a lack of coherency, and one soon starts to wonder when it going to end. There are a couple of long tracks on here, one at more than 14 minutes and one at 19, but just making them long does not mean they will be any good. It is a shame as there are some really interesting passages and interplay at times, especially when the guitar and keyboards set up some duels and runs, but it is just not enough to make the album sufficiently enjoyable as it lacks cohesion throughout. Kev Rowland 6/10
After three studio albums, a decision was made to record a gig at the famous venue My Father’s Place in October 2019. Somewhat unsurprisingly the line-up is the same as that on the ‘The Face of Life’ album earlier that year, namely Mike Visaggio (piano, organ synth, harmony vocals), Saint John Coleman (vocals), Peter Matuchniak (guitar), Mark Tupko (bass) and Michael Murray (drums, harmony vocals). Now, I enjoyed the previous album, and I was looking forward to this, and in some ways, I was certainly not disappointed, while others very much so. Musically this is a complex outfit, with a rhythm section that provides multiple patterns and elements so that the two lead instruments can go off and play, although both drums and bass also push their way into the limelight when the time is right. Peter Matuchniak is one of my favourite guitarists, seemingly able to play in whatever style is required, which makes him such as in-demand session man as well as releasing his own material and in being multiple bands. Here he is allowed to really push his melodic soloing, and is relishing having a melodic foil to pitch against as Mike is keyboard player who is not afraid to take centre stage. The use of different keyboard sounds and styles also makes this for an interesting battle. So far, so good.The issue I have is with the vocals. I have no idea if Saint John Coleman was having an off night, or if there was an equipment issue so he could not hear himself, but to me the vocals are sharp throughout the whole performance. This means that when it is just the band (and there are plenty of lengthy instrumental sections) I have one opinion of the album, and when he is singing, I have another which is quite different. This is a real shame, as musically this is a great release, yet I cannot look past that. However, like every review I ever write, this is just my opinion and others may not share that view, but I would suggest this is one to listen to before purchase. If you like the vocals, you will find this to be an amazing release and one you should seek out. Kev Rowland 6/10
I first came across Tim in the band No Man is an Island (Except the Isle of Man), where he was vocalist and co-writer with Steven Wilson. They soon shorted their name to no-man, and I reviewed various of their albums back in the Nineties, and Tim worked with various different musicians until he finally released his own debut back in 2004, ‘Hotel’, which I also reviewed. A short ten years later, and 2014 saw Tim release his second solo album, ‘Abandoned Dancehall Dreams’. There are a host of other musicians, including of course Wilson, and colleagues from no-man, with plenty of other incredible talents such as drummers Pat Mastelotto and Andrew Booker. But this album is not really about the music, as that is always very much the accompaniment for Tim’s wonderful vocals.
Anyone who has come across no-man will have an expectation for what is being delivered here, and they will not be disappointed. There is a whimsical melancholy about Tim’s material, and an honesty and genuineness that other bands aspire to but rarely achieve. Tim’s relationship with guitarist Michael Bearpark goes back many years, not only with no-man but other outfits, and his use of different guitar techniques to emphasise the emotions in the voice is sublime, with Stuart Laws providing bass that has the right amount of delicacy and warmth. There are times when the music feels quite twee, such as on “Smiler at 52”, yet the emotions and reality of the vocals take the song in quite a different direction from the electronic backing which is behind it. This is an album which bears repeated listening as there is a great deal to be taken from it, by singer who has been at the front of the game for many years. Kev Rowland 8/10
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