If there's a more endangered species than that of "traveling troubadour," it's probably vanished by the time you read this review. The whole notion of the wayfaring minstrel seems almost a quaint relic from the past.
Not entirely, however - enter Harry Manx and his new disc, "Dog My Cat."
Harry's led the kind of life that seems somehow larger than that of mere mortals; poet, wanderer, he's traveled the world. It's amply apparent in his music - there seems a breadth, a depth of spirit, to his songcraft. His spiritual home, however, seems to be somewhere between the Mississippi Delta and India.
That's right, India.
"Dog My Cat" is definitely not your average blues disc. Rather, it's informed by the blues in the same way as the music of, say, Leadbelly or Woody Guthrie. Blues is unquestionably the foundation, but Harry expands the musical vocabulary to include occasional washes of exotic sound from the mohan veena, an instrument somewhere between a dobro and a sitar, along with the more conventional acoustic lap slide and harmonica.
Harry kicks things off with Muddy's "Can't Be Satisfied," here taken at a relatively jaunty pace; one gets the impression that movin' on isn't exactly news to Mr. Manx. Next is "Bring That Thing," a haunting plea to a departed lover; it's followed by "Good Morning Stranger," which explores the ways lovers drift apart. Harry spices "Reuben's Train" with the almost eerie sounds of the mohan veena, also used to good effect in two instrumental Rags (of the Indian persuasion, not the Scott Joplin variety). Both are stunningly beautiful pieces that straddle the East/West divide with ease.
Though it's an original composition, "Lay Down My Worries," sounds like a traditional gospel tune - there's a timeless quality to the contrast between weary resignation and hope that Harry injects into it. (For the record, hope wins.)
"Sunday Morning Ascension" is a paean to a dead friend that avoids all trace of bathos or sentimentality. Harry returns to Muddy's songbook for "Baby Please Don't Go," here given a folky treatment that strips the tune to its emotional essence. "Brick And Stone" points out that it's the ones we love that matter more than the monuments we'd construct for ourselves, that it's our hearts that are really our homes. Jimmy Reed's "Shame Shame Shame," has a relaxed, back-porch groove, as comfortable as a favorite old pair of jeans.
"Dog My Cat" was recorded live in the studio in a single session. The resultant sound is exceptional, with a pristine clarity that'll have you believing Harry's sitting right beside you. Harry's voice, too, is utterly perfect for the material. Neither gruff nor smooth, he somehow sounds exactly as one would expect - like someone who's seen much of the world, knows well its dark side, but retains a soul-deep faith in the human spirit.
"Dog My Cat" continues Northern Blues' commitment to expanding the blues idiom by incorporating fresh sounds and new ideas. On that level it succeeds admirably; equally important, it's a rewarding and enjoyable listen.
NorthernBlues Music Inc.
67 Mowat Ave, Suite 233,
Toronto Ontario Canada M6K 3E3
Fax : 416-536-1494
Web : www.northernblues.com
This review is copyright © 2001 by John Taylor, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission. For permission to use this review please send an E-mail to Ray Stiles.