Upon listening to the latest album from Manna Frost Trio, it becomes increasingly obvious that the title of record, Overgrowth, is on a sonic level an apt and pertinent concept to associate itself with. For the uninitiated, the ‘Trio’ that are referenced in the band name are illusory. In the studio at least, Manna Frost Trio is very much the solitary endeavour of North Carolina singer songwriter Stacy Harden who, during the course of this release, presents lush swathes of riff, rhythm, and melody across what is a notably assured and remarkably diverse selection of distinctly American music.
With regards to this multiplicity, take the album opener Day One and the wall of sound that is created by the gang of guitar tracks. A driving bass and drum line are accompanied by an example of almost every archetypal guitar-tone. Some roar, some squeal, whilst others jangle, creating a dense and multi-layered foliage of sound; bursting and blooming with each crashing chord. Now compare this to the sudden shift in direction found on second song, They’re Real, and you will start to understand the free approach to song-writing that is implemented throughout the record. Whilst this is another guitar-led piece, it leaves the post-Grunge sensibilities of the first and instead channels Jazz, and arguably Funk, as the melody-line oscillates over the boundaries of discord and harmony, never settling, all the while experimenting with a jagged, restless rhythm. Should these two examples prove insufficient in demonstrating the sundry genres on offer, then the touching Cold and Cruel, which follows, should further succeed. The song itself contains multitudes, beginning as a piano led folk ballad before catching alight and evolving into a rambunctious reel of roots rock; only to then drop-out and seamlessly slip into the down tempo The Last Flash, an ode to being left and leaving: conjuring the great American themes of travel and endless momentum.
Remarkably, the examples given are just the first four songs whereby myriad influences are tangible: from Neil Young & Crazy Horse, to Pearl Jam, or perhaps, more recently, War on Drugs. The Manna Frost Trio-website classifies the music as being Americana, a claim that perhaps they, more so than their contemporaries, can justifiably claim as Overgrowth, in its essence, is a bouquet of Americana’s varying historical musical guises. This is none truer than in the triumvirate of instrumental tracks which serve as the centre-point of the album. Here, in a manner that recalls the great Aaron Copland’s compositions, America’s rich musical history is presented in microcosm over the three tracks: Gone Again, In a Waking Dream, and Uprooted. This trilogy is the product of a crosspollination of Americana’s past styles: where folk, grunge, and rock are blended. Uprooted, for instance, combines a contemporary percussion production with an old-time guitar melody and a limping banjo chord that, oxymoronically, retains a strong waltz rhythm. Gone Again, on the other hand, sounds like a great ode to the American Road and, on In a Waking Dream, you will find an angst-filled piece of present-day rock that is indebted to the grunge-era and its previous 70’s Rock influences. When the vocals do return it is, as before, to a similar effect. Harden takes care to mould melodies that, whilst unique, have an ineffably classic and timeless quality to them. Lyrically, the themes presented likewise blur the line between the traditional and iconoclast with customary references to the ‘American sadness and madness’ that Kerouac wrote of. The songs stir together the familiar tropes of leaving and moving; the Romantic image of departing tail lights or distant cities lit up like ‘camp fires’, and splice them together with some refreshing revisions and word play: ‘words that were hung/ on the end of your tongue/ have come loose’.
Such diversity of genre could create a feeling of disunity; of scatter-brained creativity with little meticulousness when it comes to coherence. However, it is to the album’s credit that throughout the assortment of styles the record never becomes ensnared in this trap. With this in mind, the overall consistency of quality is a contributing factor and, in particular, there has clearly been an astonishing attention to detail during crafting of these songs. Each chord and note overlap like overgrown ivy leaves and, amidst florets of guitar & percussion, there remains unanimity of purpose: an economy amidst the plenty. In particular, the rhythm section is fantastic with a constant diligence paid to maintaining a groove which many others could do with taking note of. Overall, this is a presentation of classic song writing, virtuoso guitar, and practiced musicianship which is naturally associated to that of a clear talent emerging.
Review by: James Beedie
Overgrowth is out now and can be ordered here: http://mannafrosttrio.com/