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Music Review: Harry Manx – Bread And Buddha

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There's always been a fine line between what's interesting and what's tedious when it comes to acoustic music. For while some performers seem to have the knack for imbuing a song with the heart or soul necessary for bringing it to life, others can sing the exact same song and it will just lay there like a wet dish rag. It doesn't even seem to matter how skilled or unskilled the performer is either, for their fingers could skip and skim over the fret board of their chosen instrument and sing with the voice of the angels, and still bore you to tears. Yet the person whose voice sounds like gravel and who can only strum the few basic chords making up the bare bones of a tune, can break your heart or bring a smile to your face that will light up the darkest night.

People who have listened to folk music, acoustic blues, or country for any length of time will be familiar with this phenomenon as they have will undoubtedly heard plenty of examples of each over the years. While certainly a listener's individual tastes and preferences in music have hand in deciding whether a song has emotional depth or not, the musicians can't escape being responsible for the quality of their music. Perhaps the most disappointing are those who you start off liking because what they do is interesting enough to hold your attention. However, over the course of a few CDs their music doesn't seem to change, or the novelty of their style begins to wear thin, and you begin to notice deficiencies in their sound.

About five years ago a friend of mine introduced me to the music of Harry Manx, who played an interesting mixture of Western and Indian music. He had studied for twelve years under an Indian master on an instrument known as the Mohan Veena. Shaped like an oversized guitar and equipped with an additional set of "sympathetic" strings that give its sound a quality similar to a sitar, it's played in the same manner as a lap slide instrument. Taking advantage of these properties, Manx has married traditional Delta blues with the sound of India. While one can't help but admire the skill that's gone into playing and creating the music—and there is something undeniably captivating about the elegant, almost ethereal, sound he can produce at times—after listening to his forthcoming release, Bread And Buddha, coming out on September 15th on his Dog My Cat Records label, I can't help but feeling there's something missing in his music.

Don't get me wrong, the music is still expertly played as Manx is as skilled as ever and those who are accompanying him are equally adept. However, there's also been no change in what's being presented either, and after four CDs of hearing elegantly played blues and acoustic music, I find myself wishing for a little more rawness, or a hiccough of some sort or another to break the monotony. I like my blues music, and my country, to be a whole lot rawer and earthier than Manx seems willing to play. The lack of emotion and passion, that to me are the hallmark of those genres, can only be ignored for so long before the music starts to wear thin.

With its complicated, intricate, and intertwining rhythms, and the way it piles layer upon layer of themes on top of each other, Manx's style is ideally suited to classic Indian ragas. There the musician almost approaches his subject sideways, gradually building the picture he or she is trying to create until the audience can feel it on many levels. However the music he is playing on this disc, and his other releases, needs a more direct approach and requires a performer to commit him or herself to a song immediately. Whether it's the vocals or the instruments, the audience has to believe the performer right from the outset for the songs to have the emotional impact they require to be effective, and that's not happening on this disc.

It's especially obvious on his cover of the song "Long Black Veil". An old melodramatic, tear-jerker of a country song, it tells the story of a guy who let's himself be hung instead of admitting he was in bed with his best friend's wife at the time the murder he's charged with was being committed. There's two ways you can ruin this song, one being by chewing the scenery and really overplaying it, but also by going too far in the opposite direction and not giving it enough. While there's no way Manx will ever be accused of being guilty of the former (although maybe that's what he needs to start shooting for), he definitely makes the song way too bloodless.

Ironically, he has chosen to reduce the use of his trademark Mohan Veena on this disc, for instead of its absence giving his music more emotional oomph, those deficiencies have become even more obvious. On the two songs where it is employed we are given beautiful demonstrations of its haunting qualities and how adept he is with the style of music the instrument was initially created to play. So when he switches to playing more conventional Western instruments and genres, but retains many of Indian music's sensibilities, the problem stands out in very sharp relief. The mellowness and subtlety he employs on the former don't have what's needed for the latter.

Harry Manx is a highly skilled musician who plays any instrument he get his hands on with elegance and style. Vocally he has a decent range and his delivery is as smooth and graceful as his playing. Unfortunately, a great deal of the music he plays calls for rough edges that he doesn't seem to be able to deliver. When he picks up his Mohan Veena and plays music that is Indian influenced, the difference is immediately obvious, and those songs transport you in a way the other songs don't. While Manx is able to accomplish his version of fusing East and West technically, stylistically and thematically, it doesn't quite work as there is an emotional void that leaves you feeling the songs are incomplete.

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About Richard Marcus

Richard Marcus is the author of two books commissioned by Ulysses Press, "What Will Happen In Eragon IV?" (2009) and "The Unofficial Heroes Of Olympus Companion". Aside from Blogcritics his work has appeared around the world in publications like the German edition of Rolling Stone Magazine and the multilingual web site Qantara.de. He has been writing for Blogcritics.org since 2005 and has published around 1900 articles at the site.
  • http://trinimansblog.blogspot.com/ Triniman

    I’ve seen him before. Well worth seeing.

  • des irwin

    cant get enough of him, hes brill, a freind on saltspring island introduced me to his music, what a mate

  • David Strathcote

    Just as is the case with songwriting, when a writer sits to write his bit or the musician takes up his guitar, his inner world all starts hanging out. This reviewers’ inner critic is having a field day here. It’s a shame when you begin to read a promising review only to find it has a “mean” hater streak just lurking under the mirky surface. As a result I’d say this review speaks more about the writer than the artist in question.
    One has to consider two things when reading a review like this; Does the writer come from an objective perspective “or” does he have an unspoken agenda to crap on the artist. Does the writer perhaps have an axe to grind with Mr. Manx personally. Only he really knows, but the tone of the article definately smacks of someone looking to find fault but determined to sound rational about it. He confidently lays out his expectations of Mr. Manx and his music (that aren’t met apparently) and faults him for not satisfying those same expectations.
    I’ve seen Mr. Manx play, I own most of his stuff, I’ve heard the new CD. It’s full of heart, soul, talent and something that this reviewer seems not to be able to recognize….. love. Manx is not playing to your standards, or to your intellect. His songs are all about the heart. Simple.

  • Krishna Singh

    I am big fan of Harry Manx and there is so much good in him. If you have good ears you hear him give a lot more than music. He’s singing my spirit to my Guru Nanak. I love him for that

  • George Maitland

    I like the comments from David Stathcote about the reviewer because I also got pissed cause I like his new CD and this article sounds mean and negative but kind of pretends a objective thing. You know if you saw Harry play you might get it right? Ah, the life of a critic. Everybody’s got one. Good night to all.
    George Maitland, Austin TX

  • Genevieve

    This article is way off the mark darling. Manx has a very sexy voice. Women get him. We couldn’t care less about what kind of boring blues you’d rather hear. Harry just sold out the best club in Montreal last weekend and he was on FIRE. Better luck next time with trying to put someone down.
    PS Love is the Fire!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Don Rutherford

    I also got the Facebook notice about this review tonight and I had to laugh. I was a concert promoter for a time in Southern Ontario a few years back and I recall something happening between Harry and this writer Richard Marcus. Harry was playing in town and had agreed to meet up for an interview with Richard (who was trying to get his blog thing going I think) but anyways Harry ended up going out for dinner with friends and not meeting up with Richard. I’m not sure if Harry blew him off or just forgot, but I think Richard was pissed. When I read who wrote the review of Harry’s CD Bread & Buddha, I thought to myself ‘well there’s a bit of sweet revenge for you’

  • D.Man

    Serious? Smear job or what. This sucks big time, this writer sucks big time. Oh, I forgot, no personal attacks allowed. Big D

  • Tanya Hargrave

    That’s the trouble with blogs, anyone can say crap about an artist and there’s no way to let people know the writer is on a trip of his own. Whatever happened to responsible journalism. You can’t use blogs to dis people you’re pissed at. Bad karma there man.

  • Svens Dahl

    I just got the email and I can’t get why some people always think something is missing. I wonder if this writer looks at an apple and says that something is missing? What’s missing is the presence of the viewer ( in this case the reviewer). He’s all wound up in his head when he could just be HERE enjoying the CD. But he’s trying to make himself look knowledgeable. All knowledge is borrowed, but he hasn’t figured that out yet. Any parrot can use words skillfully. Check out his own creativity, he writes story books for adults that never grew up. I guess that’s what qualifies him to write about Harry Manx who ‘just is’ and for me is more than enough.
    Love Bread and Buddha. Come back to Sweden

  • Kevin Baker

    Really, is RM really using this article to smear Harry. Hey you bloggers, don’t let this dude bring you all shit for using this place to trash people out. You ‘do’ need to answer to the people or they’ll rise up against your site. There’s an email going round from Harry’s fans. I already received two. Get rid of this review and write some decent shit about the only truly original musician in Canada. This is a misuse of power.

  • Dr. Sam Richards

    Dear friends, the tone of your article can definitely be construed as vengeful. I’m also a ‘HarryManxster’ and it’s ridiculous to see someone so misinformed about Harry writing a supposedly well informed article. There’s false information there. I should know, I see him every few weeks, we are good friends. We spoke two days ago, Harry knows about this article and he told me that he knows the author too. It disturbs him but he’s letting it go. I think the worst part was that this negative review was already riding the internet before Harry even had a physical copy of Bread & Buddha in his hand. He said that his two years of work to make this recording was suddenly ‘attacked’ by the lack of ‘heart’ in the review. I’d say the writer is grinding an old axe here. Thanks Dr.S.Richards MD

  • Peter

    This review seems to complain chiefly that Harry’s music has not evolved or changed in a way the writer would have liked. That shouldn’t stop any real fan from continuing to enjoy Harry’s unique and amazing approach. He’s not a clone of RM’s personal ideal in Blues, and he never will be. Nor a clone of anything; Harry’s a creator, not an imitator. I like this album, i get lost in the mood, and that’s what *I’m* looking for!

  • Donny Boy

    Hey whoa, slow down here folks. This article doesn’t suck. No way. It’s just really badly written with a hater vibe. Cool.
    Weird as life is, I can do Steve Vai all night and still come home and slap on some Harry. Low key ass whuppin.

  • Rebecca Stolz

    As a point of interest, did you know that Harry played on CDs from Zavier Rudd and Richie Havens. Two artists that this writer seems to get all “girly” about. Harry said that both those guys called him up to play on their recordings “Fire in the Belly” (Rudd) and “No One Left to Crown” (Havens) Harry has performed with Zavier a number of times and is still touring regularily with Richie Havens.
    I guess they also don’t like him because his music sucks, no emotion etc.
    Richard Marcus couldn’t review shit because it takes more than the mindfuck that he’s presenting to get to the heart of what is “Harry Manx Music”
    Get a new gig man.

    Rebecca Stolz
    Tour Manager extrodinaire

  • Jamie G.

    Who are these bloggers? They think they have a license to kill. No, they have a license to stick their foot in their mouths when they go beyond the limits of what people will tolerate. But blogs, aren’t they kind of the equivalent to waiting in the ‘wanna be writers’ waiting room at a publishing house? And isn’t the best way for a baby to get attention to be bad. Isn’t a shitty article a cry for help, the need for attention even if it’s negative. Even when they think they can raise themselves up by putting someone else down. Those that can really write, write. Those that can’t, they blog and write fantasy books based on unfulfilled childhoods.

  • PT

    RM spends 3 pages to let us know something’s missing in Harry’s music and in the end he doesn’t say what it is! That’s an extraordinary piece of journalism, written so well in non sequiturs. Personally, I think if you’re wanting to make a case (especially when you’re staking out the critical high ground), you should actually go ahead and make it. Otherwise you’re argument is a hollow facade for a hidden agenda. The motive belongs to the writer alone.
    B&B is a good CD, serious.
    PT

  • Sharma

    Buy it and forget this dudes’ crappy review.
    Sharma

  • doug m.

    That same fine line occurs in writing reviews and this fella’s crossed it.

  • http://everythingisamess.wordpress.com Tom Johnson

    I don’t get it. Not seeing anything remotely “mean” or “hater” about Richard’s piece at all. Maybe it’s a little longer than it needs to be, but it’s clear he’s just disappointed in it, that’s all. I see a lot of comments from people that sound, frankly, like fanboy types, reading a LOT more into his piece, or making up stuff to suit their need, than is really there. This is a very weirdly acidic string of comments for such a light piece.

  • D.Pannett

    Besides the fact (according to an email I received) that RM launched his review ‘before’ the CD came out which I find an attempt at a smear campaign, what I find lacking in this review is an intelligent insight or two into where this artist really sits in the big picture of World Music? Check out to see about him. An interesting read would have been about how his music is unique amongst a multitude of styles etc. or “The new Global Musician”? or How many Veena Players live on your block? This article could have touched on the heart of so many positive things. But it didn’t. The lady beside me in the Hall cried like a baby when he played “Humble Me” at the one show I’ve seen of his. Lack of emotion in the music? Really? Q
    Donna Pannett

  • Jenn Wong

    Harry’s laid back style of singing has been misread by some as a lack of emotion, it’s not. I think it’s cool, and it’s not designed to cater to the listeners requirements. It’s an acquired taste. Do you fault him for not singing more like other Blues musicians? By the way, what the hell’s a “Fanboy” It sounds bad somehow. I might be one. I bought Bread & Buddha and it’s without a doubt Harry Manx’s best CD.

  • Justin

    Hey Tom Johnson, are you the same person that wrote that book about Tunnel thru Space. My son reads your stuff. He loves it.
    Justin

  • KB

    I like the part about there being only “two ways to sing Long Black Veil” Now, how did he figure out there was ONLY two ways to sing that song I wonder? That must have taken quite some research to calculate that. He goes on to say that Harry didn’t sing it either of the two ways….. so now there’s what? Three ways?
    K

  • Leo McKay

    I’m with Tom Johnson above, this article, though basically negative, does not seem to be unfair. It’s an opinion I don’t agree with. I’m a huge Harry Manx fan, and I think this blog’s author must have tin ears not to hear the passion in Manx’s music.

    Judging from the two standing ovations Harry got in the full house show I attended in Halifax just last night, there are many people who have sensibilities finely tuned enough to recognize emotion even when it’s not over-stated.

  • Rob Klein

    These details of the music seem to be overlooked by the writer, so I’m adding them myself.

    The first tune “Nine Summers Lost” is a blues tune and a social comment on the street violence that affects children in urban areas. “Nine summers lost, nine lovely little dreams.”

    “True to Yourself” is an east Indian inspired tune featuring Samidha Joglekar on vocals and Harry on the Mohan Veena. The lyrics sung in Hindi refer to the idea that “If I had the chance to live again, I’d be more daring, I’d make more mistakes and sooner” Harry’s lyrics point to the divine “Naked noise around me, hopeless to hear myself, you seemed to fall into my sky, I loved nobody else”

    “Dew on Roses” refers to the idea that hard times fall upon all of us eventually. There’s often great vulnerability, beauty and depth in sadness. The elements of detachment and objectivity are represented by the notion of Dew on Roses.

    “Walking Ghost” is sung from the perspective of an 83 year old man. A person who finally came to his senses and quit the farm after years of fruitless toil.

    “Your Eyes Have Seen” If you’ve gone out into the world and opened your eyes wide, if you’ve lived and breathed the struggles of other people in obscure corners of the planet, you’ll know you can never be the same again. There’s no going back. You have eaten from the tree of knowledge as they say. “I think you’d smile if you could, you cry just to feel good”

    “Humble Me” is a song written by Kevin Breit. It speaks of single-parented heartbreak and struggle. “I broke down the side of the road” It’s a beautifully crafted tune that takes on one of the more powerful experiences in life…….. the heartbreak of separation. l love the depth of emotional understanding this song reflects.

    “Moon Goin Down” is a Charley Patton tune. CP was one of the early purveyors of the blues. Harry played at a tribute concert to Charlie Patton in NYC with John Hammond a few years back and this was one of the songs that he played.

    “Love is the Fire” was written as a devotional song by Sw. Miten. He’s a good friend of Harry’s and a long time seeker of truth. The sentiment expressed is similar to that of Indian Gazals, waiting for the guest , in this case “love” to appear.

    “Long Black Veil” is a song about a tragic case of mistaken identity and secret lovers. It has been recording by many but my favorite version would be Harry’s.

    “The Unspoken Truth” is an improvisation on an Indian scale. Samidha Joglekar is on vocals and Harry is on the Veena. They trade sounds back and forth all the while pointing to the depth of the notes and the silences between them. This is a tune that promotes the idea that the more silent you are, the more you will hear.

  • Jane MacKinon

    I find that Bread & Buddha is a very beautiful recording. The emotional depth is not only obvious (to most of us) but it is intelligent too. I say that because I feel there’s nothing about this recording that’s trying to be ‘nice’ Instead it opted for being real. Which the Blues Nazis don’t get.
    But if the author of the blog doesn’t get that it’s too bad for him, but what’s worse is that he’s out there trying to influence other people’s opinion. That’s the part that sucks. People like him bring nothing and offer nothing other than a reflection of the negativity that “prevents” creativity. Thank God for people like Harry
    love Jane

  • Shaktiboy

    I agree, you talk about ‘emotional voids’ Man if that ain’t a projection of the blog writers mind, I don’t know what is. This is very mediocre material mostly because RM doesn’t see how obvious are his own ego trips here. Know thyself, before you open your big mouth.

  • Jake Fromm

    This review sucks, talk about emotional voids (who thinks of shit like that except those that are living in one), Manx is one of the most intelligently articulate writers of emotional songs, period.
    Bread & Buddha is an amazingly beautiful recording, I`ve yet to meet anyone other than the writer in question who doesn`t agree with me.

  • Bonnie

    The more silent you are, the more you will hear. Think about that RM.

  • Doug Cox

    I like this article and I agree with Mr. Marcus because this CD is shit and Harry Manx is shit. He`s got no talent and nothing to say.

  • Georgina Sussman

    That last comment seems to be a condensed version of the bloggers (what’s his name?) review. You see how shit is spread?
    No, Harry Manx is kicking ass. He’s smart and talented way beyond what the blogger can grasp.

  • http://www.themusiccritic.co.uk Allan Strong

    There is a review of the album on another blog called the music critic. They gave it album of the month. I like the album. I have never heard of Manx before, but I wish I had discovered him earlier.

    I don’t see anything wrong with the reviewer being allowed to give his opinion. Sometimes it is the perspective of the person reading it that the problem.

  • Peter Brooks

    God has hands, they play like Harry Manx

  • Dave Chapman

    There is nothing wrong with a reviewer giving his opinion, but I believe a reviewer should also provide some facts about the CD as well. This reviewer had the advantage of hearing the CD before the general public, and he could have used this advantage to provide the reader with some information about the CD to aid in their music purchase. Thanks to the commenter who did half of the reviewer’s work for him!

  • kaylee

    I like this article and I agree with Mr. Marcus because this CD is shit and Harry Manx is shit.

  • David Hawthorne

    I disagree with the review. Harry Manx is the real deal… Anyone who can combine the blues with the spiritual side of India has found the mother lode. I think a ton of musicians would give a lot to be even half as good as Mr. Manx.

  • Rob Lindsey

    It’s funny – I was completely agreeing with the first couple of paragraphs of the review (and still do, actually – my two other favourite folk singers had the roughest voices you’ll ever hear, and one of them just strummed his guitar very basically for 50 years!), before seeing that it was being used as a way to critique Harry’s work on this album.

    Yes, he’s an incredibly polished musician, but I was shocked to read that his delivery apparently lacks ‘emotion’!!! I love Harry’s music for the emotion it evokes in me, through his voice – his love songs are aching, and there’s an undercurrent of suffering in much of his singing (where appropriate of course).

    I have to admit I’ve only listened to a few songs from this album so far, and so far they are ‘familiar’ (love it or hate it), but as soulful as ever. I was also sad to hear of Harry’s reaction to this piece – Mr Marcus has the right to say this, and musicians need to be resilient to criticism, but I think he was way off the mark here.

  • Gregorio

    I think Harry deliberately tries to disorientate the listener’s familiarity with both blues and classic Indian sitar styles. He obviously makes no apology for doing this and it’s up to us to take it in, work it out, which for me is what every musician should do. Harry clearly sets out to taps into the rhythm of life through his music; he does not claim to replicate it so questions of authenticity and rawness are really quite redundant.