OUR WEEKLY SHOWCASE FOR GREAT ALBUMS
GETS BLINDED BY THE LIGHT
Manfred Mann's Earth Band doesn't get a lot of props. While not often cited as an influence on the jam scene, his prog-rock-jazz outfit was capable of adapting Holtz and Tchaikovsky as well as covering Bruce Springsteen in a chart topping way. In between those strange extremes lays burbling synths, nasty guitars, winding, unpredictable compositions and an exuberance for ear-snagging sonics, boffo playing and in-the-moment creative exuberance. One picks up on their penchant for beautiful excess and brainy, circuitous rockin' in Phish, U-Melt, Umphrey's McGee and many others. Still, the South African born keyboardist-bandleader and his fine explorers rarely get a friendly nod from today's groups. Always anxious to give credit where it's due, JamBase steers y'all towards 1976's The Roaring Silence as a swell first step into a catalog full of happy surprises.
Best known for the No. 1 single version of Springsteen's "Blinded By The Light," this set is a far cry from Mann's initial '60s R&B hits "Do Wah Diddy Diddy" and "Sha La La." Silence is the group's seventh album but was the first to really snag widespread attention. It strikes a balance between their early fiercely cerebral freakiness and more radio friendly nuances. The greater discipline results in a continually pleasurable set that, outside of a few aged keyboard sounds, remains incredibly listenable. Opening with a killer pairing ("Blinded By The Light" followed "Singing The Dolphin Through" written by the Incredible String Band's Mike Heron) and closing with two classically influenced pieces ("Starbird" adapts Stravinsky's The Firebird and "Questions" is based on Schubert's Impromptu in G flat Major), this album, as befits its cover, is good to your ear hole.
Lead singer-guitarist Chris Hamlet Thompson is a forceful, ingratiating vocalist, and when he's not on mic Mann (keys, backing vocals), Colin Pattenden (bass), Dave Flett (lead guitar) and future Asia, The Firm and David Gilmour drummer Chris Slade keep the conversation lively. Given the seeming mishmash of elements it's a small wonder they keep things flowing so naturally. One longs to hear the unreleased jam sessions these cats put down, likely free and giddy as a jungle cat freshly loosed from the zoo. See, the Earth Band always seems to be pressing against edges, seeing what can be tweaked and brightly complicated, and perhaps it's that itch to go beyond standardized formats while remaining engaging and even poppy that is their greatest gift to jam-dom.
Those sufficiently intrigued should consider 1973's Messin' and 1972's eponymous debut as the next stops after The Roaring Silence, where you'll discover the Earth Band is equally gifted at interpreting Dylan as they are The Boss. The band continues to play and record to this day in various lineups, though mostly in Europe now. Their last new record, 2006 (hear samples here), finds them still elbow deep in classical interpretation and shimmering probing, less single oriented than their late '70s commercial peak but no less interested in lively musical exploration. Not too shabby for a guy that celebrated his 68th birthday this week, a testament to staying true to one's artistic intentions.
The Roaring Silence track listing:
"Blinded by the Light" (Bruce Springsteen) - 7:08
"Singing The Dolphin Through" (Mike Heron) – 8:19
"Waiter There's a Yawn in My Ear" (Manfred Mann) – 5:39
"The Road to Babylon" (Mann, Chris Slade, Mick Rogers, Colin Pattenden) – 6:53
"This Side of Paradise" (Mann, Slade, Rogers, Pattenden) – 4:47
"Starbird" (Mann, Slade) – 3:09
"Questions" (Mann, Slade) – 4:00
Though we'd love to show you some of their original work there's scant decent clips available, but there's much to be said for being inspired, even brilliant interpreters, which is hardly without its artistry. Here's "Blinded By The Light" on Solid Gold in 1976.
And here they are live in '76 on their moody, percolating interpretation of Springsteen's "Spirits In The Night," which originally appeared on the previous album, Nightingales and Bombers (1975), but was subsequently released as a follow-up single to "Blinded."
We end in 1974 with the band on an extremely kickin' version of Dylan's "The Mighty Quinn" captured in Helsinki. Peep them going off around three minutes in and tell me you don't hear a bit of Trey, Page, Mike and Fishman!