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MANFRED MANN Down The Road Apiece: EMI Recordings 1963-1966 EMI 397 2152 (2007)

This exhaustive Manfred Mann retrospective trawls the early years 1963-1966 to the tune of 96 tracks, and includes 14 commercial test tracks, 7 unreleased tracks, a mostly frivolous band interview and a degree of musical schizophrenia that only those old enough to remember the 60's will understand.

For the Manfred's, were originally a jazz outfit (Mann Hugg Blues Brothers) with classy players who dipped their feet into the commercial waters of r&b before finding success as a fully blown pop band.

The three year early career retrospective doesn't quite include all the singles, as the band switched to Fontana for the final brace of 1966 singles, 'Just Like a Woman' and 'Semi Detached Suburban Mr. Jones'.

And while there is plenty to enjoy here, you get the feeling that perhaps the whole enterprise is one CD too many. On the one hand there is a sense of progression as the mix of confident jazzy instrumentals such as the debut single 'Why Should We Not'/'Brother Jack' ('Frere Jacques') and the piano led boogie of 'Mr.Anello', and 'Sack O'Woe' are succeeded by a mix of blues standards and newly fashioned pop hits.

Multi instrumentalist Mike Vickers frequently contributes a mix of fine sax, flute and guitar and if anything eclipses Manfred Mann on keys.

'5-4-3-2-1' still sounds urgent and fresh all these years later, though the keyboard sounds a little thin (but don't tell Manfred that). 'Hubble Bubble' is another step forward and like the American breakthrough hit 'Do Wah Diddy Diddy' stands out like a beacon amongst some standard r&b fare such as 'It's Gonna Work Out Fine' (often covered by Spencer Davis), and 'Sticks & Stones ( a Zombies favourite).

CD2 is a mix of cool jazz - with Mike Vickers again impressive on vibes on 'Bare Hugg' and Jones making a good fist of a jazzy vocal line on a cover of 'Watermelon Man' - r&b and Bob Dylan.

But again it's the hits such as 'Sha-La-La' and the splendid chorus of 'Oh No Not My Baby' that stand out. Then there's the clever tongue in cheek 'The One in The Middle' (the title cut from an EP release) that both references the band's personnel and Jones's nascent Pop stardom.

CD3 is perhaps the CD on which we could have laid to rest some of the ballads, blues covers that add little to the band's oeuvre, especially a funky version of 'Tennessee Waltz' that just doesn't work and a misguided attempt at 'Let's Go Get Stoned'.

And by the time of CD 4's trying instrumental re-workings of Sonny & Cher's 'I Got You Babe', The Who's 'My Generation' and the Stones 'Satisfaction', listener patience is being sorely tried, with only 'Pretty Flamingo' holding much interest.

The final 13 track Commercial test reprises much of what has gone before, and is for compleatists only. The closing group interview is mostly a bit of a lark though Paul Jones's musical influences seem to suggest he has had blues at his heart from the beginning.


Review by Pete Feenstra

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***** Out of this world | **** Pretty damn fine |
*** OK, approach with caution unless you are a fan |
** Instant bargain bin fodder | * Ugly. Just ugly

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