|It's probably not widely appreciated that many
seminal figures of the early decades of southern U.S. blues were
equally adept a interpreting styles of music other than that for
which they are remembered. Recordings of Charley Patton, Son House,
Rice Miller, Peetie Wheatstraw, Robert Jr. Lockwood and even RJ
himself playing non-blues material are rare indeed. Historians tell
us, however, that it was quite common for artists such as these
to perform, where appropriate, such as at parties for white folks,
a repertoire of spirituals, popular Tin Pan Alley tunes, show music,
minstrel songs and hillbilly numbers. Folk/blues artists like Leadbelly.
Mississippi John Hurt, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee have often
displayed their versatility on record but will be forever revered
essentially for their devotion to the blues.
Much further south from Mississippi it hasn't changed all that much
today, especially in the case of Aussie blues legend, Phil Manning,
although not necessarily for reasons of commercial gain. With an
extensive discography since his first release with Chain in 1969,
Phil has played just about every blues guitar lick in the book,
and then some. Apart from absorbing Phil's live performances, my
first experience of his progressive musical trend came upon the
release of The Back Shed in 1994. While retaining his blues
roots, this broadening of musical influences continues with his
new CD. I doubt he'll ever betray his deep history as a bluesman
capable of playing alongside the best in the business. Phil has
taken the stage next to many of them times over and is worthy of
international acclaim. Nor is it evident that Phil is seeking a
wider market for his talents. He is merely drawing the listeners
attention to other roots music styles, sharing a close relationship
with the blues, that he has studied and admired over the years.
Celebrated pickers like Jerry Douglas, Woody Guthrie and Doc Watson
are mentioned in his lyrics, yet the songs retain Phil's innate
down-home character. From Hawaiian slide to Delta bottleneck, from
Piedmont finger style to jazz-tinged Texas country blues single
stringing, Phil's contribution to the development of the blues guitar
Down Under is unparalleled. Vocally though he has extended himself
enormously with his excursions into the world of folk/country, Celtic
airs and musical bush yarns.
In the style of its predecessor, Two Roads, the new album
is pared back to the basics of guitar, vocal and stomp box with
the exception of three cuts complimented by ace drummer Don Lebler,
and Phil's co-producer Paul Cheeseman on bass, performing together
live in the Tamborine Mountain, Qld. studio. They are: The Bounce,
a Chicago shuffle with a backbeat reminiscent of Maxwell Street
in its heyday, The Lone Ranger, a portrait of injustice set to bluegrass
rhythms, and a pulsating boogie about religious fanaticism, Adjust
Yourself. The set opens with the folksy Round In a Circle, a theme
on the effects of too much alcohol. Then comes the familiar tale
of driving in the wet, Up To the Axles, with its effective slide
reflecting the motions felt behind the wheel. The bluesy lament,
Motor's Runnin', keeps the tempo revved up and leads into two hypnotic
Delta stomps: Canefields Burnin', an Australian perspective on the
advent of automation, and a train song, Steam Heaven, an ode recalling
a bygone era.
Phil has long been a masterful exponent of the Robert Johnson blues
style and, in this vein, fans will be delighted with the inclusion
of Phil's This Passing Girl. You'd swear Johnson's ghost was in
the studio during this take. How does one play an authentic country
blues, keeping within the boundaries of the basic structure, while
maintaining an identifiable freshness? Phil demonstrates it convincingly
with this track. More hot slide work prevails on Maybe. Then, after
an ethereal intro, bearing a resemblance to Blind Willie Johnson,
Phil employs ancient indigenous rhythms in his execution of the
melodic instrumental, Bora Stomp. Folk Singers With Cold Fingers,
a philosophical rag, is followed by a fluid waltz, He's Started
Again. Although relating to a modern social problem, this timeless
melody merits pride of place among many of the great Australian
folk ballads. Other highlights include If a Man, somewhat in a gospel
mode, also the narrative Weary Traveller, drawing influences from
the music of early bluesmen like Florida's Arthur Phelps (a.k.a.
Blind Blake), and the closing track, Me and John, in which Phil
declares his affinity with the greats of bluegrass.
The 47 minute collection showcases an eclectic blend of Phil Manning's
abundant musical skills. It displays his prolific songwriting with
lyrics depicting vivid images of Aussie life, his distinctive vocal
technique, and his precision playing on six and twelve string guitars,
1930s wooden Dobro and Beaton Bell Brass resophonic guitar. Take
Note is a contemporary roots music package of sixteen original songs
presented with world class finesse and grace.
Hensley, Rhythms, December 2000
|Essentially, this is Manning singing
his songs and accompanying himself on guitar and stomp box. The
list of guitars - five, including two Guilds, a 30's wooden dobro
and a Beaton Bell Brass Resophonic - is three longer than the list
of guest musicians.
If you are going to play personal acoustic blues, who better to
take inspiration from than Robert Johnson. Some songs, however,
move away from the blues to a folkier styling, given warmth by Manning's
Indeed, Manning has paid his dues and he is happy to share his view
with anyone who cares for substance over flash.
Howard, The Sunday Herald
|Take Note has it all - topics on
women, drugs, religio, drink - if you like your Blues clean, with
a country feel, then check out this one - another Phil Manning classic!
Fox, Sydney Blues Society
|" ... the combination of my
love for all things Aussie ... & country / traditional Blues
... Phil Manning's latest release "Take Note" is even
more ... namely the intelligent lyrics & the refreshing relaxed
aura of this entire recording project.
Add to that his plugged in guitar history with the legendary Aussie
Blues Rock Band "Chain" ... & well ... along with
his other acoustic album "Two Roads" ... "Take Note"
sets on the top rail of my personal favorite's.
Plus, tho I've never met him ... Phil Manning comes across as a
genuine "Good Guy" ... Both musically & personably
... I like Phil Manning ... & if you ain't hip ... get so ...
Russell, Country Eastern West Radio, Texas, U.S.A
Phil Manning is a national treasure,
to whom half the musicians playing blues in the country owe a
beer or two that's for sure. A pioneer of acoustic and electric
blues, he first came to prominence in the Antipodes in the late
'60's with legendary group "Chain". Songwriter, finger
picker and slide player supreme he stands tall amongst Australia's
talented acoustic guitar players, of which there are several of
world class. Phil has absorbed the classic blues guitar styles
of all periods, traces of Muddy Waters in his playing, but with
a voice instantly recognisable as his, he sings the songs of contemporary
If you're fed up with unplugged guitar strummers
and songs about bored youth and long for someone who can craft
a song, spin a godd yarn and play the hell out of an acoustic
instrument so good it leaves you breathless, well as the title
suggests, just take note. A not to be missed CD for all enthusiasts
of class and style.
Cooper - fROOTS