Bread and Buddha
CANADIAN GUITARIST AND SINGER-SONGWRITER Harry Manx is an artist that critics have occasionally had a hard time getting their minds around. His unique amalgam of blues and other American roots music, classical Indian forms, and bits of rock, pop, and folk makes him difficult to pigeonhole, and self-appointed gatekeepers of those traditions sometimes bemoan his lack of purity, stubbornly missing the point. But Manx’s trip is really quite easy to grasp: He’s an accomplished and adventurous lap-slide guitarist—whether playing a National resonator, a solidbody lap-steel, a modified banjo or cigar-box guitar, or his signature 20-string Mohan Veena—and a compelling singer with a rich, warm, and soulful voice who writes intelligent and compassionate songs and puts them over with heartfelt conviction. Manx is also a commanding live performer—as documented on his previous CD, Harry Manx & Friends Live at the Glenn Gould Studio—who routinely floors even new audiences (which is why Richie Havens has him open as many of his shows as possible).
Manx’s past work has ranged from relatively straight ahead folk-blues blended with Indian modalities and ornamentation to more experimental explorations of his personal East-West fusion—with lots of inventive covers of bluesmen from Muddy to Jimi along the way. The songs on Bread and Buddha build on that foundation, but the lyrics reflect greater maturity and the musical arrangements are more tightly focused and skillfully produced. Manx's instrumental prowess remains evident throughout—but everything works to showcase the vocals and reinforce the songs. For example, the album opens with a ghostly slide line played on the National which is quickly overlaid with a more prominent National track that establishes a rootsy groove, and with the first words of "Nine Summers Lost" attention shifts to Manx's voice—but the ghostly slide track persists throughout, adding subtle colors that are nearly subliminal at some points, but that you would miss immediately if they suddenly weren't there.
The second song, "True to Yourself," beautifully weds Manx's slinky slide guitar and exotic Mohan Veena lines with a potent brew of bass, drums, organ, and piano, lightly infused with tabla beats and Samidha Joglekar's sparkling Indian vocal accompaniment. That's followed by "Dew on Roses," a majestic ballad centered on the interplay of acoustic slide, National, and grand piano, with poetic lyrics that gracefully address difficult topics such as heartache and the impermanence of life.
Other gems include another thoughtful and introspective ballad ("Your Eyes Have Seen"), an earthy boogie-blues ("Walking Ghost Blues"), a Springsteen-esque rocker (“Love Is the Fire"), and an atmospheric Indian duet on which Manx plays Mohan Veen and tamboura and Joglekar contributes wordless vocals ("The Unspoken Quest"). My least favorite song is the string-driven "Humble Me," a love ballad written by Manx's longtime collaborator Kevin Breit and made popular by Norah Jones—a song that nonetheless has enough commercial appeal to make Manx a mega-star was it to find its way onto mainstream radio. Covers of Charley Patton's "Moon Goin' Down" and the country ballad "Long Black Veil"—originally made famous in 1959 by the great Lefty Frizzell—round out this superb recording. Dog My Cat.