|Harry Manx's musical palate ranges from the six-string lap guitar and the banjo
to the Mohan Veena, a stringed instrument from India that combines characteristics of the sitar, the sarod (a fretless
stringed instrument), and the western slide guitar.
Manx is a world traveler whose journeys have taken him to India and Japan, and his themes - musical and lyrical - are laced with images drawn from Buddhism and Hinduism, along with western pop and blues. His liner notes tell us he starts every day by playing "a morning raga...expressing all the joy, suffering, tears, and laughter that most of us feel living in this troubled world."
Music this earnest can work only if it's delivered with effortless artistry - and with joy. Fortunately, Manx sounds as un-self-conscious as his spiritual mentors have no doubt admonished him to be. He graces the traditional hymn 'Death Have Mercy' with sparkling cascades from his Mohan Veena, and he sings it in a tremulous murmur that evokes both the terror in the face of the divine and the hard-won peace of the believer. He segues audaciously but effectively from 'The Gist of Madhuvanti", a classically styled Veena instrumental, into a low-key but riveting version of 'The Thrill is Gone', on which he interweaves brooding acoustic guitar lines with his dexterous Veena technique.
Manx's reworks Hendrix's 'Foxy Lady' into a tepid, if still funk-driven, folk-blues novelty. More successful are his originals, including the haunting, Appalachian-tinged 'Tethered Dogs'; 'Makes You Want To Die Laughing' and "A Little Cruel' (both Zen-informed meditations on the transitory nature of worldly security), and 'Coat of Mail', a stark tale of violence, compassion, and the search for redemption. On these selections, his diverse musical influences fuse unpretentiously: pop-folk melodies, a bluesy undercurrent accentuated by his string-bending guitar lines and the ever-present modal harmonic colorings of the Veena.
This disc will probably please pop-folk fans more than hard-core blues lovers; if you liked early Shawn Phillips, for instance, you'll probably love Harry Manx. But we can all be inspired by an artist audacious enough to mix such eclectic influences, proclaim that when he plays it "it's all blues of one kind or another," and then demonstrate both the chops and the integrity to make good on his claim.
"'Music this earnest can work only if it's delivered with effortless artistry - and with joy. Fortunately, Manx sounds as un-self-conscious as his spiritual mentors have no doubt admonished him to be. "