“I spent the better part of twelve years in that ancient and beautiful landscape known as India…One of the things which I learned in India is that it’s not only about the artist. It’s about the song. And it’s more about the song than the artist…The music of the east has that spiritual quality of being played in abandonment…When the silence between the notes says as much as the notes themselves, like the gap between breaths, it’s all good. The way I see it, Blues is like the earth and Indian music is like the heavens. What I do is find the balance between the two. Harry Manx Mantras For Mandmen
This is the second Harry Manx disc that I’ve reviewed, as well as being the second one that I’ve listened to with any degree of attention. I’d heard his music in the background on the ubiquitous Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (.C.B.C.) many a time, and had friends spin his discs on occasion, but you know how it goes, it catches your attention for a second than your drift off into, the what’s up with your life game chat with your friend or the radio is just so much noise behind everything else. The details of what you’re listening too get lost in aural landscape.
West Eats Meet was his first album that I actually sat down with for an extended period. Not for any specific purpose, but because the sounds and quality of the work were so compelling that it forced me to pay attention to it. It was a disservice to the music to use it as background. With Mantras For Madmen, my reason is different, as for the first time I’m listening primarily as a critic, not a fan. Amazing how that changes your perspective.
Take the quote that I started this review with. It’s lifted from the liner notes of the disc. Now one can have a variety of reactions to it, ranging from, running screaming from New Age gloop, saying “Oh Wow” that’s so cool, or like me asking, well do you accomplish what you’ve set out to do with the music on this disc? Have you, Harry Manx found the balance between Heaven and Earth, spiritual and mundane, tantric and sexual; whatever you want to call it, on this album?
I mean I have to be grateful to him, it’s not very often that an artist will spell out exactly what they are attempting for the ignorant critics so we can have clues on what to look for. Of course there are many layers of meaning when you say the Blues are of the Earth and Indian music is of the Heavens so that’s where it gets tricky for the critic; figuring out which permeations this guy is going to follow.
Okay enough of the philosophical crap for a while. Is the disc good already you want to know? Should I be shelling out my hard earned shekels for it, or will it just end up as a tree ornament for this festive season. Quick answer. This disc is better than West Eats Meet and anybody who call themselves a connoisseur of finely crafted acoustic Blues would be insane not to run out and buy it this second.
While it may not be as down and dirty as one would expect from someone claiming the Delta Blues as inspiration, no driving Muddy Watters type chords here, Harry Manx most definitely posses the soul of a Blues man. Times have changed, a man doesn’t just get the blues from having his woman done do him wrong anymore. No, in the twenty-first century it comes at you from far subtler directions.
No matter how hard you try/Life won’t give a moments rest/And now you’ve come to know that/Nothing fails like success/ Harry Manx “Nothing Fails Like Success” Mantras For Madmen Dog My Cat records 2005
What does it take to be happy these days? It’s the old theme of material wealth not being sufficient, but in these days that’s taken on even more resonance, as the world around us grows increasingly dispassionate. Harry’s songs speak to what’s lacking in so much of our lives: love. Not just the straight-ahead relationship type love, which is an age-old problem, but the just plain lack of caring, compassion and love in the world period.
Alright so I an hear some of you manly men out there wincing at those words and I’ll let you go back to your hard Texas Blues songs in just a second, but before you go think about how many of those songs are about love gone bad. Now instead of a woman’s love going bad, it’s society’s love that’s gone bad.
Anyway there’s some nice end of relationship songs for you on this album too, although they may not be the kind you’re used to. No going to drown your sorrows with a quick twenty four, just regrets about not being able to provide what’s needed to make a relations ship work in “It Takes A Tear”. In the same category Harry covers, beautifully, The Band’s old hit “It Makes No Difference”, his sweet rough voice ideally suited to the regret and sorrow expressed so eloquently by Robbie Robertson’s lyrics.
But it’s when Harry picks up his mohan veena (a what? to find out about this amazing guitar check out Harry’s site) that he starts to reach up to connect heaven and earth. Yeah his lap slide work is great, as is his banjo and regular guitar, but when those sweeping sitar like notes start washing through the music, the blues start to bathe your spirit like the river Ganges must wash the devout Hindu clean.
This is what separates Harry Manx from the pack of folk /blues musicians out there. Not just because of the uniqueness or the novelty of the sound, because novelty wears off quickly, but what he accomplishes with it. There has always been a heavy spiritual connection to the blues, it being the secular version of the gospel music of black southern Americans. With the influences that he has been exposed to while learning the mohan veena he brings the spiritual quality back to where it belongs.
You burnt down a mountain, with just a single spark/Words became the candle that rid you of the dark/Laughed until you cried, nothing like the blues/Laughed until you cried, could’ve sworn the sky was blue/Could’ve sworn the sky was blue. Harry Manx. “A Single Spark” Mantras For Madmen Dog My Cat records 2005
But instead of the guilt ridden, sin induced blues of the past; Harry gives us an oxymoronic blues of hope. He’s not preaching about heaven and earth; how everything we do is subject to judgement and punishment. These are songs about what it takes to find our way clear of the messes we make. Through our tears will come the release we need to continue with what we started when we were born.
“Blues is like the earth and Indian music like the heavens. What I do is find the balance between the two” So we’re back there again and this is the moment of truth, where will the critic fall in his judgement? Well I’m going to cop out and say that it’s for you to decide. The blues and heaven are highly personal subjects for all of us, and each of us find our own way of transcending beyond our personal grief to find comfort where we need it.
On Mantras For Madmen what Harry Manx does is change the shape of the spiritual nature of the Blues. He infuses the songs with hope for moving through the moments in life where we get stuck in sadness or in frustration. It’s all about perspective and knowing that something exists beyond your reality. If like me you feel that’s finding the balance between heaven and earth than he succeeds.
Put aside all philosophy for a second again, and just think of it as music: Mantras for Madmen is a damn good album which I don’t think any music collection should be without. If along the way it changes your perceptions about stuff, well that’s not a bad thing either.