Esoteric [Release date 28.07.14]
‘Call Down the Moon’ has a cult status among Man fans and not just because it’s frequently hard to track down. It’s probably more down to the wonderful jammed out highlight ‘Drivin’ Around’ and the lashing of Micky Jones’s guitar playing.
While the preceding ‘The Twang Dynasty’ was an excellent comeback album lacking only a sparkling production to make it sheen, ‘Call Down the Moon’ was co-produced by the band and Ron Sanchez, who was guided by his own vision of how they should sound at the time. The result is a frustrating but ultimately enjoyable album that smoulders with intent but only rarely catches fire.
Recorded in record time in Seattle on borrowed instruments, ‘Call Down the Moon’ lacks the exuberance of ‘The Twang Dynasty’. Indeed after Micky Jones’s guitar and vocal led title track, the album all too easily slips into a doomy dirge. The problem seems to be that Deke plays piano rather than guitar and as a result the album lacks the dynamic twin guitar attack.
The band are at their best on title track, which features an imperious guitar figure from Micky and Deke’s echo laden piano. They dig deep for feel on the sultry blues of ‘Dream Away’, with Micky on dobro and an aching vocal phrased over lot’s of space and crisp percussion that gives it real presence.
Even this bluesy highlight is eclipsed by the two part ‘Drivin’ Around’, which features Deke on piano and Micky’s memorable opening verse: “Well the sway of her hips and the touch of her lips make me lose all my sense of direction. When she walks down the street with the world at her feet, it’s so hard not to feel some affection. But I’ve tried and I’ve tried but I just couldn’t hide, desiring her erogenous zones. When the end comes in sight you will find I was right, or my name is not Micky Jones.”
Better still, Micky delivers a spine tingling, angular Zappa style guitar solo – make that one part Zappa wah-wah and the other Micky’s own beautiful touch, tone and phrasing – in an object lesson in less is more. It suddenly fades and leads into brief white noise before drummer Weathers picks out a more urgent tempo and Deke slips on his guitar to feature with Micky on a classic jam.
In an era of downloaded files and instant gratification, it’s tempting to overlook the rest of the album and just go to the best track, but there’s plenty of other good stuff.
The up tempo ‘Blackout’ is the polar opposite to its doomy lyrics, while the elongated guitar line could have come from the band’s ‘Two Ounce of Plastic With A Hole In The Middle’ and gives it extra heft.
Martin Ace’s ‘The Man With X Ray Eyes’ also gives the album a notable lift and is a glance back at the band’s harmony led past.
‘Heaven & Hell’ features another of Deke’s chunky piano figures and his cryptic lyrics are sung by Micky and backed by the latter’s accented chords. Significantly, the mid-section keyboard link gives the song the kind of tension breaking variety that is missing in some of the other songs.
Contrary to producer Ron Sanchez claim that ‘If I Were You’ is a hidden gem, it sounds like the kernel of a good idea that needs developing, but it’s only partially realized here. It starts with a decent Deke vocal and the band stomp their way through the opening verses, but the song doesn’t go anywhere and simply runs out of steam. The stuttering rhythm of ‘The Girl Is Trouble’ similarly starts brightly and features typically clever Leonard lyrics, but outlives it welcome after some busy slide work from Micky.
The one big surprise is Pugwash Weathers’ ‘Burn My Working Clothes’ which still sounds remarkably fresh and the perfect end to the album.
Ron Sanchez certainly achieved his basic goal of capturing: ‘enough of the band’s fingerprint to satisfy the fans and me’. Two bonus tracks comprise a different version of ‘Dream Away’ with Deke on vocals, while ‘Micky Buys A Round’ is a double tracked guitar instrumental demo.
20 years after its recording ‘Call Down the Moon still sounds annoyingly incomplete, but the best moments still make it worth buying. ***½
Review by Pete Feenstra
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