Creature Music [Release date 20.10.14]
This is quite a challenging album to review. Quite how challenging it must have been to produce doesn’t bear thinking about. In fact, we are lucky enough to have an insight into that process. Manfred’s own, searingly honest, liner notes to accompany this album provide a glimpse of the frustrations, ambitions and doubts of perfectionist recording artist.
‘Lone Arranger’ is, surprisingly, only the second solo album from Manfred Mann. It is a collection of re-interpretations of often very high profile songs spanning the last 40 years. Some of the selections are incredibly bold: Queen ‘We Will Rock You’, T Rex ‘Bang A Gong (Get It On)’, Free ‘Alright Now. Just for starters.
Messing with classics is fraught with danger. What is certain though, is that Mann – a consummate musician, producer and arranger – has approached the task without the merest hint of half-hearted, lip-service patronage. On the contrary, these tracks are completely deconstructed, re-imagined or re-invented.
Take ‘All Right Now’. The track is imbued with smooth jazz influences that could not be more removed from Free’s powerhouse workout. There is a delicious vocal from Carleen Anderson, giving the original words a twist from a woman’s perspective. Mellow violin gently ushers the song out the door. It works.
As does ‘Light My Fire’. Spare lyrics, complex brass passages, inventive basslines and injections of lush guitar and violin. However, the main melody remains intact and carries the track wonderfully.
The same approach to vocals appears on ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’. No need for the full lyric as it is known so well. Hints, echoes and repeated phrases suffice. This version features some great guitar from Mick Rogers. First as a funky melodic tease and then absolutely smoking lead on the outro.
‘Rock You’ on the other hand, is more likely to divide opinion. Brian May’s words are given a trance-like rap delivery over a keyboard groove, and a mashed up chorus. No anthemic fist pumping here. It is unfair to compare with the originals, of course. These tracks should be heard in their own context. But maybe this particular version is a step too far.
A startling array of performers appears on this collection: from Kanye West to Mark King; Kris Kristofferson to Ruby Turner.
It is two less well known musicians who make the most significant impression though: Til Bronner on trumpet and Billy Thompson on violin. They combine to remarkable effect on arguably the album’s stand out piece, ‘Nothing Compares To You’. They have space to weave a haunting, sparse tune over quiet vocal fragments and Mann’s understated piano swells. Beautiful.
During his 50 years in the business, Manfred Mann has strived to remain relevant. A number of artists have sampled his material over the last few years. On this album, Manfred offers back three re-interpretations of those sampled tracks.
‘One Hand In The Air’ is a reworking of Kanye West’s ‘So Appalled’ which was based on ‘You Are I Am’ by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band. ‘I Came For You’, which features excellent slices of vocals and guitar, is based on the Disco Boy’s ‘For You’ which used to be the Earth Band’s ‘For You’. Finally, album closer ‘One Way Stand Up’ includes an infectious brass motif and thunderous drums popularised by The Prodigy on ‘Stand Up’ that is Manfred’s from his late ‘60’s Chapter Three days.
Amongst the obvious highlights, there are just a few too many odd moments, curious passages and testing renovations for this to be a year-end classic. On the whole, however, this is an interesting, worthy and intelligent album; and ably highlights the skill and craft of an enduring and talented musician. ***½
Review by Dave Atkinson
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