Tony McManus,
Ceol More
(Compass, 2002)

A glorious album for lovers of the acoustic guitar, Ceol More is Tony McManus's third solo album, and after hearing it I want to run out and get the other two. McManus blends tunes from Scotland, Ireland, Brittany, Central Europe and even the U.S. (Charles Mingus's "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat") to create an album that's at once thoughtful, introspective, moving and dynamic. McManus is supported only by Ewen Vernal on bass (sympathetic to the point of being psychic, providing solid underpinning throughout) and Guy Nicolson's rousing tabla on two tracks.

One of those is the lead track, "Sliabh Gheal gCua na Feile/Kishor's Tune," a splendid and stately tune set on which the tablas feel very much at home. A set of three reels follows, in which McManus uses both the melodic and percussive qualities of the guitar to superb effect, and mimics the rhythms of the pipes beautifully. "The Lament for the Viscount of Dundee" is a slow and majestic guitar interpretation of the Scottish piobreachd, and is followed by a still respectful "Dr. MacPhail's Reel." The Mingus tune is next, and this is undoubtedly the first time the jazz standard has been described as "a slow air," but it is indeed, while swinging very subtly throughout.

"The King of the Pipers" is a toe-tapper, and further demonstrates that McManus has more than just speed and chops. There's true emotion in his playing, even in these up-tempo numbers. I'm not sure if McManus is doubling himself here or not, but the effect is stunning. "Exile/La Reve du Queteux Tremblay/Pierre's Right Arm" is another wonderful set, in which McManus uses a soft and delicate touch and then moves to a sprightly close. "An Droichead Bheag/The Chandelier" starts with a rollicking hornpipe in which he doubles himself on mandolin, and then accelerates into a heavy driving rhythm on the second tune.

"Banks and Braes" sounds fresh thanks to some alternate and unexpected chords, and "The Old Bush" is a still and ruminative reel. A Breton circle dance, "Suite de Ridees," provides still more variety of sound, and the disc ends with "Shalom Aleichem," the Hebrew hymn, in which McManus's mandolin skills may be fully heard.

Ceol More is a fascinating musical journey, at times slow and solemn, at other times with a brisk, almost breathless pace, but Tony McManus never compromises his skill and his art. His presence and musicianship are a wonder to hear, and every note will be as deeply felt by the listener as it is by the musician himself.

- Rambles
written by Chet Williamson
published 21 December 2002

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