Man: Back Into The Future Again
A jam band more than two decades before the term was coined, Man originally took inspiration from the San Francisco groups of the 1960s who, like post-1990s jam bands, favor an open-ended, eclectic approach to songwriting and playing.
Though the Welsh-born band were still active in 2008, after near constant personnel shifts and a hiatus or two, their devout fan base, having already turned them into the definition of a cult band, has compelled the reissue of the group's catalog recordings. These are mostly in expanded form, via the British label Cherry Red's Esoteric imprint.
Bonus tracks aplenty, sometimes generating additional discs, adorn all these titles, the design of which overflows with the detailed graphics and memorabilia a fan relishes. And then there are the delightfully arch liner notes from the band's perpetual prodigal son, the guitarist, pianist and vocalist Deke Leonard, whose prose captures the whimsy and far-reaching vision of Man's music.
Be Good To Yourself At Least Once A Day
Cherry Red / Esoteric
Almost a template for the future work of Man, this CD features harmony vocals that add a bright dimension to instrumental work which could become remarkably fluid as the band played, as on "C'Mon." Even then,the musicianship retained the simplicity of the rhythm section and the country-influenced guitar that ties Man to the pub-rock movement. The absence of Leonard results in extra emphasis on keyboards, which appear in equal prominence and in correct proportion to Micky Jones' guita
One of the eventual staples of their repertoire, "Bananas," like its corollary vehicle "C'Mon," works as a studio recording, as its structure contains the proper balance of progressive and roots elements of the Man sound, without at all confining the group. Unlike most of the rest of the bonus cuts on the other expanded editions, neither the early version of the latter improvisational warhorse or "Rockfield Jam" add anything to the tracklist as originally released, but that says something about how complete an album this was when it first came out. It remains so in 2009.
Back Into The Future
Cherry Red / Esoteric
Like its original double-LP vinyl release, the reissued three-CD Back To The Future is a combination of studio and live recordings that makes for quite a sumptuous listening session. Guitarist/vocalist Micky Jones (the only individual to be part of every Man lineup, until health issues got in the way) is not just deferential but manages to coax ideas from his keyboard and guitar partners. This includes the composition of material which, to the credit of all involved, is usually well-wrought and crafted to the strengths of the group.
Acoustic guitars dominate the conventional folk-rock "Don't Go Away," while soaring vocal harmonies co-exist with progressive keyboard textures in "Just For You." Both tracks contain the playful tenor that's part of Man's collective persona. While the studio portion proves the group could compose material that nurtured discipline, it also reminds us that Man could still generate an open-ended atmosphere of skillful improvisation. On largely instrumental cuts such as "Never Say Nups To Nepalese," the quintet generates genuine majesty.
The archive release contains the entire show from London's legendary Roundhouse, culled from the same alternately sprightly and spacey jam action that completes the first disc. It features the reappearance of a Welsh choir on stage with Man. The vocal group adds a grandeur to the proceedings that allows Man to engage in sinewy improvisation that's a harder rocking extension of its studio counterparts.
Rhinos, Winos & Lunatics
Arguably the pinnacle of Man's output, Rhinos, Winos & Lunatics boasts a quintet lineup including Deke Leonard, who sublimates his approach, taking no more room than Jones and allowing the keyboards of Malcolm Morley to garnish the sound as it was sculpted in the studio (by then producer of Queen, Roy Thomas Baker). The grandeur of the "Intro" and "Exit" that book-ended side one of the vinyl LP still resonates on CD, and the whole album remains proof positive Man could thrive within the studio with exemplary original material without losing the spontaneity at the heart of their best playing.
As if to reaffirm the point, the reissue includes an extra disc comprised of an entire show from the American tour in support of the album. It's distinguished by an otherwise unrecorded tune of Morley's, "American Mother," that in its ghostly atmosphere effectively provides continuity to the original album. In addition, Rolling Stones' sideman Jim Horn becomes a member of Man for the duration of this show, his saxophone and flute adding even more texture to the most diverse sound of the group in their history.
With the departure of Morley, Man was left slightly reeling, reduced to a quartet. Little surprise then that the next recording finds production values and songwriting substituted for improvisation. The influence of the Beatles is all too obvious when orchestration appears on Mickey Jones' truly precious "Rainbow Eyes," while on rockers like "Hard Way To Die" and the less conventional "Bedtime Bone" the group doesn't stretch out extensively.
The bonus cuts thus add weight to what is otherwise the prime example of how the circular patterns of personnel shifts clearly got the better of the group at this point. If Man sounded like they should've done the entire album with orchestra along the lines of "Grasshopper," the earthy driving rock of the concert cuts and alternate studio recordings supply an ideal complement.
Maximum Darkness is all guitars, a prime example of how drastically the sound, if not the approach, of Man changed with the comings and goings of Deke Leonard. The most colorful figure within the ranks, Leonard's personality, musical and otherwise, is so strong it renders this album a remarkable sound-alike for his earliest solo work (which is rife with slicing guitars as sharp as Leonard Cohen's voice is cutting).
The presence of guitarist John Cippolina of Quicksilver Messenger Service would seem to positively amplify the guitar-driven approach of this band, but the playing here is curiously static, the very presence of Man's hero apparently disrupting the well-established guitar camaraderie between Leonard and Jones.
An epic twenty-three minutes plus bonus of "C'mon" redeems the reissue. The transitions to and from the jarring ambience of the bridge into the driving rock of the body suggest why it remained such a durable piece for the group over the years, no matter the instrumental configuration.
Tracks and Personnel
Be Good To Youself At Least Once A Day
Tracks: C'mon; Keep On Crinting; Bananas; Life On The Road. Previously unreleased bonus tracks: Bananas (Early Instrumental Version); Rockfield Jam.
Personnel: Micky Jones: guitars, vocals; Clive John: guitars,vocals; Phil Ryan: keyboards, vocals; Will Youatt: bass, vocals; Terry Williams: drums; percussion.
Back Into The Future
Tracks: CD1: A Night In Dad's Bag; Just For You; Back Into The Future; Don't Go Away; Ain't Their Fight; Never Say Nups To Nepalese; Sospan Fach; C'Mon; Jam Up Jelly Tight / Oh No, Not Again (Spunk Rock 73). CD2: Sospan Fach (Live); A Night In Dad's Bag (Live); C Mon (Live); Just For You; Jam Up Jelly / Tight Oh No, Not Again /(Spunk Rock 73) (Live). CD3 Bananas (Live); Life On'the Road (Live); Ain't Their Fight (Live); The Single (I'm Dreaming); The Symbol Who Came To Dinner.
Personnel: Micky Jones: guitars, vocals; Tweke Lewis: guitars, vocals; Phil Ryan: keyboards, vocals; Will Youatt: bass, vocals; Terry Williams: drums, percussion.
Rhinos, Winos & Lunatics
Tracks: CD1: Taking The Easy Way Out Again; The Thunder And Lightning Kid; California Silks And Satins; Four Day Louise; Intro; Kerosene; Scotch Corner; Exit; Bonus Track: Taking The Easy Way Out Again (Single Version). CD2: Recorded Live At The Whiskey A Go Go In March 1974: American Mother; 7171 551; A Hard Way To Live; Romain; Bananas.
Personnel: Micky Jones: guitar, vocals; Deke Leonard: guitar, piano, vocals; Malcolm Morley: keyboards, guitar, vocals; Ken Whaley: bass; Terry Williams: drums, vocals.
Tracks: Hard Way To Die; Grasshopper; Rock And Roll You Out; You Don't Like Us; Bedtime Bone; One More Chance; Rainbow Eyes; Day And Night. Previously unreleased bonus tracks: Grasshopper (First Mix); Rock And Roll You Out (First Mix); Hard Way To Die (B-Side Of Single); Somebody's Calling (Live 1975); Many Are Called, But Few Get Up (Live 1975); A Hard Way to Live (live 1975).
Personnel: Micky Jones: guitar, vocals; Deke Leonard; guitar, piano, vocals; Ken Whaley; bass; Terry Williams; drums, vocals.
Tracks: 7171 551; Codine; Babe, I'm Gonna Leave You; Many Are Called, But Few Get Up; Bananas. Previously unreleased bonus tracks recorded live in Berkeley, California 1975: C'Mon; Romain.
Personnel: Micky Jones: guitar, vocals; Deke Leonard; guitar, piano, vocals; John Cipollina; guitar; Martin Ace: bass, vocals; Terry Williams; drums, vocals.