Some New Sounds From Our Friends The Manband



Man - Diamonds And Coal Point 134
There was plenty of surprise when The Manband reformed in 1983, after a seven year layoff. Diamonds And Coal is only the fourth studio album to be released over the twenty plus years they have been back on the road. There have been at least three 'official" live albums, and several "fan club" recordings to fill the gaps. Since the release of Endangered Species in 2000, things have not gone well in the Man camp. Health issues sidelined Deke, and eventually lead to his leaving the band. Phil Ryan's return was short lived due to his own health crisis. In the midst of all this, Micky Jones was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Micky's son George was brought in to replace Deke, who returned to the line up while Micky was out of action. Eventually Josh Ace, Martin's son was drafted when it became clear Micky would not be able to rejoin the band.

This new album is the work of a band finding their own sound. The good news is George Jones studied well at his father's knee. He's a fine guitarist, with a good voice. Josh Ace is still very young but shows promise as a singer and song writer. Word from the road has him improving in leaps and bounds. Martin Ace has had to step up and by default become the primary songwriter.

The score card shows at least five solid songs, better than 50% average. The album opens with the title track sung by Josh. A proud father putting his own right to the front. He pulls it off, despite it all. It's a good song, that I want to hear again in a couple of years when Josh is full of confidence and found the power in his voice. The mix puts his slightly tentative singing down in the mix. Nothing wrong with the results, but if you were expecting Deke or Micky, or even Phil Ryan, you could be disappointed. George has been on the road with Man for a few years now, and has a stronger voice. You can hear the Jones genes at work. Not of voice as "sweet" as his father, but give him a bit more time. His guitar work is coming along too. He's very good, but maybe lacking the stunning originality of his father, or Deke. Those are big shoes to fill. I'd like to see him get beyond some of the obvious modern licks he uses. He will find his sound now that it's all on his shoulders.

The arrangements are always interesting. Some clever twists keep the listener engaged. It's a shame Gareth Thorrington, the keyboard player, left after completing his work on the album. At this point another melodic element seems crucial. Martin has generously waited for the two newest members to take a turn before he steps up. Freedom Fries. You can hear the experience in his song that is lacking up to this point on the album. That said, this fine number runs on a bit too long. When George does jump in on the long outtro, it kicks things up a notch.

It's the next two songs that convince me this band could well match the level of this band's legacy. Twistin' The Knife and Man Of Misery rise above the the others. They just seem more fully formed and performed. I'm still going to deduct point for the lyrics. They have neither the stoned humor or clever word play that one has become to expect from a Man record.

The final four songs fail to lift the energy, and the album ends on a slightly ordinary note. Not a complete success, but far from a failure. Over the past 40 years the Manband set some very high standards and their fans should expect them to live up to that. Under the circumstances, I am happy to cut them some slack. This one might be a bit more interesting than Twang Dynasty, but without Micky or Deke on board there is going to be something lacking. I understand the band is working on material for the follow up. That seems like the only logical plan.





Tweke Lewis - Into The Chill Kamikharsi Records

The only time I saw Tweke play live was when he was a member of Glen Cornick's post-Tull band, Wild Turkey. You can see a Bill Graham flyer for this show on Tweke's myspace page. Curiously, the drummer in that band was Jeff Jones, the original Man drummer. The next year Alan "Tweke" Lewis had joined Man just as they were becoming a major attraction. His tenure with the band was short, and he only appeared on one album, Back Into The Future, and then he's only on two of the studio tracks, and the two live numbers. There are more than a few who consider the Roundhouse performance of C'mon to one of Man's finest moments ever. Before that line up dissolved, there was one more session that produced the famously unreleased "Single" and "The Symbol", a pair of songs that enjoyed a lot of radio play in the Bay Area.

Micky might have said Tweke played too much in the same style, and didn't offer enough contrast in sound. You do have to listen close to tell when Micky isn't playing, meaning you are hearing Tweke. The BBC In Concert recording, which is now out of print, presents two more recordings from this period. After leaving Man, Tweke spent time in the Sean Tyla Gang. He then joined the Micky Jones Band for a short period in 1977 - 1978. After that, it appears he put music on the back burner for the next few years. From what I gather, he was and still is a regular fixture on the South Wales live scene. He even took up the sax to expand his skills.

Into The Chill is a collection of home recordings. They are a bit more than demos, but more accurately should be called sketches. Guitar, bass, some keyboards and a drum machine are the instruments heard. There is a bit of vocal, but it's the guitar that is featured. The liner notes name check Jeff Beck and Frank Zappa, as well as Micky Jones as influences. The sound is not unlike some of Micky's expansive playing on the Call Down The Moon album. Some of the pieces are more structured than others.

As a guitar player, I find this a great listen. The solid sense of melody lift it above the modest intentions. I find it odd that he considers himself just an "electric blues" guitarist. This shows a talent far beyond the scope of what passes for blues these days. There are some stand out tracks, and no duds. The seventeen tracks create an enjoyable mood as they flow one to the next. Tweke is far too good for this to ever slip into cliché. It's a shame he didn't think to work with a rhythm section. That might have made the best ideas really stand out. I suspect this was recorded for his own satisfaction, with no intention of a proper release. I'm sure it was the label that encouraged him to assemble the tracks into an album. It's a treat for those of use who can't get to Swansea to see him out on the boards with any of the various outfits he plays with.

Another piece of the Man puzzle is a welcome addition to the library. I'm looking forward to more from Mr Lewis. In the mean time check out his MySpace and iSound sites for several more examples of his amazing guitar playing.