Harry Manx and Kevin Breit have joined forces for the third time with Strictly Whatever, a follow up to their much admired 2007 album In God We Trust. Harry has built his enviable reputation by creating a dexterous fusion of American blues and Indian classical music. Kevin’s conversant guitar work has made him a much sought after session musician with an impressive list of collaborations under his belt, as well as his work with his own bands, Folkalarm and The Sisters Euclid.
In Strictly Whatever Harry and Kevin share the song writing and vocal credits, together with numerous varieties of eastern and western string instruments.
A gentle-paced rendition of Bobby Hebb’s Sunny opens the album with a warm mix of guitars, percussion and harmonica supporting Harry’s smoky vocal. That layered selection of strings soon becomes the trademark sound of the album, with almost every conceivable variation of guitar contributing to the mix.
Although the guitar is obviously the instrument of choice, the style and flavour of the songs on offer is as varied as the method. There Was A Girl and Nothing I Can Do are both reminiscent of Tom Petty, both in song writing style and execution. Hippy Trippy, however provides pretty much what the title promises in a fun 60’s throwback complete with sonic swirls. Little Ukulele provides still more fun, and an opportunity for the duo to share the vocal honours in a toe-tapping song of small town boy losing his way in the big city.
The blues influence is, of course, prevalent, especially in the carefully paced re-working of John Lee Hooker’s Mr Lucky. Do Not Stand At My Grave And Weep follows a more sombre blues sound, it’s impressive layered instrumentation complimenting Manx’s gripping vocal re-working of Mary Frye’s famous, and oft-adapted, poem. Looking For A Plan and Dance With Delilah provide more evidence of the use of exotic strings, with Harry’s well-known mohan veena (a 20 string guitar/sitar hybrid of sorts) and his Baritone guitar playing a leading role. These songs remain faithful to the roots/rock feel of the album but with a dark and spicy flavour.
Previous outings from this pair have resulted in music that explores and stretches their abilities as well as providing plenty for the listener to think about. Strictly Whatever, in contrast, is far more rooted in traditional American sounds, with just flashes of the esoteric to add extra flavour. The layers of influence combine in an album that provides more depth, and more to explore, with each successive listen. Two years ago I was captivated by Harry Manx’s Bread & Buddha and its sparse elegance. Strictly Whatever goes in a different direction entirely, but its warm production and multi-layered instrumentation still captivates, often in ways that aren’t immediately apparent.
Strictly Whatever continues to blend Harry’s trademark Eastern harmonics with the American roots and exotic rock/pop sound, but on the whole Harry Manx and Kevin Breit have succeeded in dropping the India/Mississippi fusion of sounds that Harry’s best known for and produced something very far removed that remains a very skilfully crafted piece of work. The album should please existing fans of the duo and, hopefully, encourage more listeners.
Nothing I Can Do (3:11)
Looking For A Brand New World (4:19)
Hippy Trippy (3:59)
Mr Lucky (3:16)
Note To Self (2:11)
Do Not Stand At My Grave And Weep (5:34)
Little Ukelele (2:31)
There Was A Girl (4:45)
Looking For A Plan (3:45)
Dance With Delilah (3:50)
Carry My Tears Away (2:45)