Blues Bytes

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December 2005

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Also, check out Manx's two NorthernBlues releases, Dog My Cat and Wise and Otherwise

Harry Manx
Mantras For Madmen
Dog My Cat Records

Harry Manx

Harry Manx is by far one of the most creative and innovative blues artists around today. Actually, categorizing his music as blues --- or, for that matter, any other genre --- is difficult. Little of what the Canadian multi-instrumentalist does could be considered as straight, 12-bar blues.

His music certainly has a blues mojo to it in kind of an otherworldly way. Forget trying to put it in a nicely defined category. It's music that needs to be heard and felt in order to be understood.

Manx spent 12 years living and traveling through India, and that experience is part of what makes his music so unique and refreshing. He seamlessly combines blues and folk music with Indian sounds. It's really remarkable how well these seemingly diverse musical forms come together. Manx described it best in the liner notes to his latest release, Mantras For Madmen, by stating, "The way I see it, Blues is like the earth and Indian music is like the heaven. What I do is find the balance between the two." He does it very well.

On his sixth release, the second on his own Dog My Cat label, Manx uses background harmony vocals on many of the cuts, giving the disc a more soulful, churchy feeling than his previous CDs (all of which are quite good!).

The disc opens with "Where Fools Die," on which Manx plays mostly straightforward folk guitar, before launching into one of the more unique numbers here. "San Diego - Tijuana" is a J.J. Cale original about Mexican nationals begging to be taken across the border to the U.S.; what's interesting is the way Manx uses an Indian stringed instrument, the mohan veena, to play the Mexican guitar parts.

"The Point of Purchase," with Manx primarily playing the banjo, has a real country blues feel but with more of a mystical atmosphere. He goes down the 'almost the blues' road again with the slow tune "A Single Spark," which features nice harmonica accompaniment from Steve Marriner and beautiful background vocals from Linda Kidder, Joani Bye and Helen Davis.

"Your Sweet Name" is an uptempo blues number highlighted by John Reischman's nimble mandolin picking and punctuated by Manx's work on the mohan veena and Niel Golden's rhythm on the tabla, a traditional Indian percussion instrument.

For me, the real gem of this CD is Manx's version of Robbie Robertson's "It Makes No Difference." He turns it into a mournful blues, with the background vocals giving the number a backwoods gospel vibe. Clocking in at just under four minutes, this song ends far too quickly. Just hit the replay button to listen to it again and again.

Emily Braden shares vocals with Manx on "It Takes A Tear." Ms. Braden has a rich, soulful voice that compels the listener to 'google' her name to find out more about this very promising, young singer. She'll undoubtedly be heard from in the future. Reischman's tasteful mandolin playing behind the harmony vocals is exquisite; he really is an unsung hero of this disc.

Mantras For Madmen closes with a slow, ethereal instrumental, "Talkin' Turban," on which Manx shows that the mohan veena is an instrument that really could have had a place in the Mississippi Delta instead of halfway around the world. One can only imagine what Charley Patton or Son House would have done with a mohan veena had they gotten their hands on one 70 years ago.

Harry Manx just gets better and better with each disc. Mantras For Madmen is one of the best CDs I've heard this year ... it's definitely 'top ten' caliber.

--- Bill Mitchell

 

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