Harry Manx |
& Kevin Breit,
Jubilee brings together two of Canada's best modern blues guitarists: Harry Manx on the mohan-veena Indian guitar and lap-slide guitar, along with journeyman session guitarist Kevin Breit. After an impromptu jam with Breit's Folk Alarm in 2001, Manx discovered he and Breit made an exquisite sonic alloy. Luckily for us, they got into the studio mere months later, resulting in this exquisite album. Their styles are a union of opposites.
Manx has an atmospheric, detached quality touched by Indian music. His music has the gift of flight. From Breit we are taken down, inside and into a world of whiskey in a mason jar and down-home blues. Breit also delivers exquisite mandolin on this album.
In the blended result it is Manx's style, unexpectedly, that comes through the most. Jubilee is a laidback album that gently rolls forward from track to track like drifting downriver on a warm, sunny day.
I've been listening to Jubilee off and on for several weeks now and each time I hear it I enjoy it. But when I pick up the CD case and read through the song titles, I can't seem to connect them to the music. The songs just don't want to stick in my mind.
There's some superb musicianship and excellent production on Jubilee, but it all ends up feeling rather anonymous. Perhaps it has to do with Harry Manx's vocal delivery. Even on a track like "Funny Business," which has a terrific, dynamic guitar arrangement, the vocals never quite elevate the song to its obvious potential. There's passion in the playing, but the singing feels too studio sanitized. Then again, perhaps the anonymity has even more to do with the surplus of instrumental pieces that separate the vocal tracks. The shortest of these instrumentals -- "When Abbott Met Costello," "Curly Ray and his Brother" and particularly "Raga Gujari-Todi" -- serve mostly to stop the album from establishing an emotional momentum.
To test this theory, as I'm writing this review I'm playing Jubilee with all the instrumentals deleted. The remaining seven tracks still manage to display the artful and diverse guitar/banjo/mandolin work of these two musicians but suddenly there's a sense of unification. I even like Manx's vocals considerably better. There's a very good album here. The cover of Sleepy John Estes' "Diving Duck Blues" and the three original Manx or Manx/Breit compositions -- "Funny Business," "Weary and You Run" and "Unmoved By Love" -- are all wonderful songs. And anyone with the audacity and the chops to deliver Jimi Hendrix's "Voodoo Child" arranged for banjo deserves a listen.
Then, far too quickly, it's over. There's just over 32 minutes of material without the instrumentals, from a pair who are obviously capable of crafting thoughtful, expressive lyrics.
As it stands, with every second track devoid of vocals, Jubilee is a Dagwood sandwich with way too much bread. It may serve well as a demo to highlight the breadth of stylistic skills Manx and Breit have at their fingertips, but it doesn't come across as a memorable listening experience. Another couple of outstanding compositions like "Weary and You Run" would have been far, far more enjoyable than the instrumental cover of Michael McDonald's "Taking It to the Streets."
Of course I can always program Jubilee for only odd numbered tracks....