It's Strictly Whatever with Harry Manx and Kevin Breit

“Strictly Whatever [Stony Plain] is the most accessible CD that we’ve done so far,” says Harry Manx of his third outing with fellow Canadian guitarist and vocalist Kevin Breit.

Strictly Whatever [Stony Plain] is the most accessible CD that we’ve done so far,” says Harry Manx of his third outing with fellow Canadian guitarist and vocalist Kevin Breit. “Kevin’s songs are catchy and easy to sing along with, but at the same time the chords and melodies reflect a deep understanding and feeling for harmony.”

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Known for his “roots-raga” acoustic guitar and slide approach—especially his work with the 20-string Indian Mohan Veena—Manx switched to a Subway baritone electric (tuned A, E, A, C, E, A, low to high) on seven tracks, playing lap slide on a ’72 Martin D-35 (tuned D, A, D, F#, A, D, low to high) on four, and adding National Steel, Gold Tone banjo, and Mohan Veena here and there. “The baritone has roughly the same tonal range as Kevin’s guitars, so it is sometimes difficult to tell who is playing what,” says Manx. “Quite often I will bring the groove, the rhythm, and the feel, while Kevin brings the melody, the harmony, and guitar playing that is entertaining beyond description.”

Breit is a multifaceted guitarist celebrated both for his versatility (Norah Jones, Roseanne Cash, and Bill Frisell are among his diverse studio credits) and his idiosyncratic and often humorous guitar style— facilitated by an array of instruments. “In addition to a ’64 Fender Tele, a hybrid Fender Strat, a Billy Rowe Jazz Bastard, a ’60s Danelectro, and a Bill Nash Esquire, I played Gibson LG-2, Martin 0-28, and National Style “O” acoustics, and a Jerry Jones Electric Sitar on the album,” says Breit. “I mostly plugged directly into a ’62 Fender Vibrolux, but also used a DOD Envelope Filter, a Dunlop wah, a Cusack Screamer Fuzz, an Ibanez Echomachine, and a Z.Vex Lo Fi Loop Junky at various points.”

Both guitarists are renowned for their singular yet complementary slide styles. “I’m not great at bottleneck, whereas Kevin can do amazing things that way, using harmonics in conjunction with the slide,” says Manx. “My strength is with the lap slide and my feel is more in line with Indian slide players, who play in a circular fashion.” When asked about Manx’s Indian aesthetic Breit says, “You can hear that in everything Harry does. He uses space very wisely and that has been a huge influence on me.”

Strictly Whatever includes covers of John Lee Hooker’s “Mr. Lucky” and Bobby Hebb’s 1966 staple “Sunny,” along with ten originals, several of which hint at the duo’s ’60s proclivities—particularly the neo-psychedelic “Hippy Trippy.” “Kevin sang me that song in the studio while clapping his hands, and I got out the baritone and tried to find something that carried both the bass and the rhythm,” says Manx. “Once I got that going I kept it constant throughout the tune except when Kevin would signify a change to the next chord. I could never figure out where that would come, so I kept my eye on him in the other booth, and he would wave his hand just before each change. It wasn’t a particularly sophisticated approach, but it was effective.” According to Breit, the song is a nod to Henry Mancini, with a touch of Herb Alpert and Sergio Mendes. “We cut that track with just the baritone guitar and electric sitar,” says Breit. “But I added mandolins, glockenspiel, and whistling to bring out the odd melody, and Art Avalos’ percussion really gave it a Mannix feel.”

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Both guitarists would like to perform the songs on the album live, and they played a few recently when Manx joined Breit’s band the Sisters Euclid onstage at the Halifax and St. Johns jazz festivals— but there are challenges. “In order to play the whole album live, first we’d have to sit down together and remember just exactly what we did,” says Manx. “We created that music in the moment, and that moment has passed. Besides, even if we did learn the songs well enough to play them again they’d wind up sounding very different, because we would reinvent them in order play something new all over again.”