Harry Manx and fellow guitarist Kevin Breit (probably best known for his work with Cassandra Wilson and Norah Jones) first got together at the Summerfolk festival in 2001. When Manx played with Breit's trio, Folk Alarm, they did not bother with trivia like rehearsals, or discussions about which key to play in. They just jumped right in and started swimming. Fast forward a few months and when the opportunity to record together arose, they both jumped at it, and "Jubilee" was born.
"Jubilee" makes a good start with Manx taking the lead on Sleepy John Estes' "Diving Duck Blues." For most of the album the split between Manx and Breit is an acoustic/electric one: Manx plays acoustic guitars (and mohan veena), while Breit plays electric guitars and other exotic instruments (cavaquinho, mandocello, and banjolin and so on). The opening track shows that this balance works well.
Breit wrote most of the tunes, starting with the instrumental waltz, "When Abbott Met Costello," which provides a brief interlude before the duo really hit the heights on the excellent "Good Time Charlie's Got The Blues." The combination of the laid back acoustic and electric slide guitars provides the perfect backdrop for Manx's laconic vocals which hint at Van Morrison. They then ratchet things up to a rattling train tempo for the instrumental medley "No Particular Place To Be/Itchy Knees and Elbows."
Manx's first composition ("Funny Business") does not arrive until track seven. It has the Manx trademark style, but the sound is bigger and rounder thanks to Breit's bass and electric slide. That the electric instruments never swamp the acoustic instruments must be largely attributed to producer David Travers-Smith. The balance between mohan veena and resonator on "Raga Gujari-Jodi" is also pretty near perfect.
The mohan veena also features on the only joint composition, "Unmoved By Love," before the dynamic duo tackle the Doobie Brothers "Taking It To The Streets." Naturally they do it in their own inimitable way as an instrumental using just wooden and steel bodied guitars. It takes a while to spot the tune, but the arrangement works brilliantly, and it sounds like they had a ball recording it. Things are (unsurprisingly) more subdued for
"Weary and You Run," where Manx handles the uncredited vocals.
After a (5-string baritone) banjo-led romp through "Tell Me About The Blues Highway Grampa," and an interesting version of "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)," complete with banjo, Breit gets to have the final say. He plays solo on "Lastly Tender," a nicely relaxed tune that tips a nod towards Stevie Wonder's "My Cherie Amour."
"Jubilee" is another fine album from Harry Manx and pairing him with Kevin
Breit was an inspired touch: the end result is that there is an extra musical dimension to the usual Manx sound. This was probably helped by the bewildering array of instruments they took into the studio. Just about everything that Northern Blues have released has been critically acclaimed; "Jubilee" is not about to break that Midas touch.
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