Harry Manx, whose debut on the NorthernBlues label, "Dog My Cat," proved one of 2001's most intriguing and pleasing surprises, is back with his second outing, and if anything "Wise And Otherwise" is even better!
Harry's music is a fascinating blend of East and West, firmly rooted in blues traditions but incorporating influences from his travels around the world. He's a peerless slide guitarist and accomplished on both banjo and harmonica, all of which are employed to stunning effect in the soundscapes he paints with delicate brush. But what really sets Harry apart is his use of the Mohan veena, a stringed instrument somewhere between a dobro and a sitar. Its shimmering, exotic sound, applied sparingly with unerring taste, adds a dimension to his music literally unlike any you've ever heard.
Harry's songs, both the covers he's chosen and his own pieces, combine sublime simplicity with a generosity of spirit, somehow both timely and timeless. His take on Van Morrison's "Crazy Love" is achingly intimate (my guess is that even the ever-irascible Van would approve), and he radically reinvents Hendrix's "Foxy Lady"; what seems at first an out-of-character choice works surprisingly well (though lyrically it's still a bit of a mismatch). And Harry's "Thrill Is Gone," preceded by an Indian-flavoured intro, may make you forget all but B.B.'s, and that simply because there's virtually no basis for comparison between the two. Elsewhere we get the traditional "Death Have Mercy," a harrowing plea in the face of encroaching darkness, and the opener, "Only Then Will Your House Be Blessed" - would that all the world could listen and live by this one!
Harry's originals render the "Wise And Otherwise" title eminently apt; for the most part cautionary tales that would have us consider what's truly important in life, there's a warmth, and yes, a wisdom to them all. There are lessons to be learned, to be sure, but Harry avoids the 'preachy,' instead stating his case with guileless and unadorned honesty.
Harry's voice is quite simply a pleasure to listen to; not really smooth (there's a bit too much grit around the edge for that) but nonetheless soothing, sounding for all the world both knowing and accepting of life's joys and its sorrows. It's well served by the exceptionally intimate recording; the whole comes across as the aural equivalent of a comfy, warm blanket, albeit one shot through with threads of many colours and cultures.
Some artists forge something entirely new simply by sheer force of their musical vision; Harry is one such, someone whose works make one reconsider and reassess one's tastes and preconceptions, even one's world view. Give "Wise And Otherwise" a listen, and my bet is you'll come out the other side a little bit more of the former. That's how good he is.
Nothing short of a masterpiece, I've no doubt whatsoever this will go down as one of the best of this still-young year.
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Web : www.northernblues.com
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