Here we have a live album, recorded at a UK literary festival in 2015, from the onetime Roxy Music guitarist, Phil Manzanera. But, of course, it's not just all about the now defunct Bryan Ferry fronted outfit, as he's also had a mightily successful career away from the band for which he'll forever be associated, including a string of solo albums and production work where he's, most recently, co-produced Pink Floyd's 'The Endless River' and David Gilmour's 'Rattle That Lock'. 'Live at the Curious Arts Festival' showcases his talents as a musician, alongside a bunch of much younger players: the British/Portuguese singer/songwriter Sonia Bernardo on vocals; ex-Stereophonics sticksman Javier Weyler; bassist Yaron Stavi, whose performing credits include work with Gilmour and Nigel Kennedy; and Razorlight's Joćo De Macedo Mello on keys and sax.
With cover art that's befittingly curious for the name of the festival at which the album was recorded, it looks like a 1969 John Lennon, who's stepped into Seth Brundle's teleportation machine from Cronenberg's 'The Fly', along with a dipterous insect, and emerged as a Lennon Fly hybrid! It's, somehow, simultaneously eye-catching and not eye-catching! Still, it's the music that's important here, and this is just fantastic. In a setlist that features Roxy Music classics, alongside Manzanera solo pieces, the album progresses with a contiguous string of winners; all loaded with succulently executed melodies and incredible musicianship, and delivered through a flawlessly engineered sound.
Sometimes, songs have a fluent, jamming vibe, such as the instrumental 'Magdalena'; other times, the instrumentations are more succinct and incise, like 'Stormy Weather', but with Barnardo's affectively stirring vocals that transcend the incisiveness of the music, with her natural, free-flowing voice. In fact, aside from the standout performance of Manzanera's beautiful lead guitar work, it's this singer's smooth-toned, sultry voice, with its widely expressive timbre, that makes the album such an engaging listen. A new name on me, I shall be checking out her solo work imminently. What a voice!
To be honest, this album was a big surprise for me. It far surpassed my anticipated level of enjoyment. Whether or not you're familiar with Roxy Music tracks and/or Manzanera's solo work, there's so much to revel in here. Fantastic fretboard widdling, some serious talent in his fellow instrumentalists, and the finest vocals I've heard since encountering Cammie Gilbert from Oceans of Slumber for the first time last year. Recommended.
LIVE AT THE CURIOUS ARTS FESTIVAL
Review by Mark Holmes
3rd March 2017
1) High Atlas
2) More Than This
3) 1960 Caracas
5) Stormy Weather
6) Take a Chance With Me
7) Love is the Drug
8) No Church in the Wild
9) Let's Stick Together
10) Out of the Blue
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
"Whether or not you're familiar with Roxy Music tracks and/or Manzanera's solo work, there's so much to revel in here."