Guy Manning has been around for quite a while in the prog scene. The band that wears his name has been around since 1997, and although he announced it to quit in 2012, another album, Akoustik #2 was released in November 2014 under that same name.
Next to his own band, Manning has been a member of Parallel or 90 Degrees (PO90) and The Tangent and is now a member of United Progressive Fraternity, headed by Mark ‘Truey’ Trueack, who released a very interesting album end 2014 as well.
Akoustik #2, as the title already indicates, is an acoustic album, containing 12 tracks, of which 9 are re-arranged from existing Manning material. I am not familiar with all Mannings albums, so I did not even attempt to do a comparison between the originals and the acoustic versions. Instead, I enjoyed listening to an album that is definitely suitable for a quiet evening with a bottle of wine. Not a typical progressive rock album, but rather a folky, sometimes jazzy album performed by 10 musicians taking their time to get things right.
The translation of progressive rock to an acoustic setting, combined with the somewhat typical voice of Guy Manning himself makes that in many places this album reminds of Jethro Tull albums, for example in the chorus of one of the new tracks, The Saturday Picture Show. In fact, re-reading my notes, this also holds for the other two new tracks, Moorlands Skies and Yesterday’s Hero. Instrumentally, all three are great tracks. The Saturday Picture Show contains nice acoustic guitar and mandolin interplay, while Moorland Skies contains very tasty fretless bass work.
Apart from these three, the older tracks, taken and re-arranged from Manning albums released between 1999 and 2009, are an interesting mix of styles and feels.
Where Songs from the Bilston House and Icarus & Me are folky rock songs, Joshua Logan is a more full blown folk song, with an Irish folk feel to it.
Blue Girl is suitable for a late night dance in a jazz club, with a beautiful saxophone solo and it’s 1950s, early 1960s feel. It forms a nice trio with the melancholic Flight 19 and A Strange Place.
The closing track Winter is dark, and for sure wintery – if I had had a say in it, I would’ve ended the album with the next to last track, Ships instead, to leave the listener with a happier feeling after playing the album. Both are well executed, but the Ships is more up tempo, and brings a more optimistic feel. For me it’s the best track on the album. The opening reminds of Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk, and mixes that with Jethro Tull, folk and jazz influences – topped with a beautiful saxophone solo.
All in all, this album is a fun listen, with very nice acoustic arrangements of originally electric song. It’s hard to qualify it as progressive rock in that sense, progressive folk may be a better fit. But, with that in mind, certainly worthwhile listening – for Manning as well as Jethro Tull fans.