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MANFRED MANN'S EARTH BAND 40th Anniversary Box Set
Creature Music (2011)

Manfred Mann's Earth Band

The rather large parcel dropped off at GRTR! Towers was like Christmas come early and turned out to be this substantial box set. All too often in these hardened times, reviewers have to make do with edited promos or a smaller version of a larger edition. It's very frustrating. So it was a pleasant surprise to receive this box and at least we can do the review justice.

I've always been interested in Manfred Mann's Earth Band although I've never collected their albums. This box set, celebrating the band's 40th anniversary, is really all that is needed as it scoops up all their official releases and adds a couple of bonus CDs. Add in an illustrated and informative booklet, a little book of Manfred's 'thoughts' and a poster and you have a very comprehensive package. But perhaps the biggest shock is that this box contains 18 official releases, from 1971's self-titled debut to 2004's '2006'. I never thought they were so productive.

The band still go out on the road albeit with a frequently updated configuration and this is marked by one of the bonus discs, recorded live in Ersingen, Norway in July 2011. The mainstays are Manfred and his trusty lieutenant Mick Rogers on guitar. Through the years, the band have always attracted good singers and the present incumbent is Robert Hart who has sung with Bad Company. Previously the great Chris Thompson was the frontman, taking over vocal duties from Mick Rogers in 1976. He returned briefly for the last studio album.

Many will know the band through their hit singles. Especially the cover of 'Blinded By Light' and the lesser hit 'Joybringer' (included here on the mop-up disc of alternate takes and singles called 'Leftovers'). But there was much more to the band than that, and don't even think about Manfred Mann's earlier incarnation with Paul Jones, although 'The Mighty Quinn' does get an airing on the live discs ('Budapest' and 'Mann Alive').

The core albums to immerse yourself in are 'Messin', 'Solar Fire' (1973) and 'The Roaring Silence' (1976).

The Earth Band were essentially a gritty rock band (grittier live) who straddled prog and who sometimes bring to mind Wishbone Ash and sometimes Argent, not least in the Hammond keyboard flavours. If they had a 'weakness' it was their penchant for cover versions which tended to loom larger than their own material. Never more so than on 1986's 'Criminal Tango'.

So from the early albums we get Dylan covers 'Please Mrs Henry', 'Get Your Rocks Off' and 'Father Of Day, Father of Night' and that Springsteen song 'Blinded By The Light' which - like Hendrix 'All 'Along The Watchtower' - is considered a definitive cover. But the band also put their own twist on classical themes. 1987's 'Masque' was a realisation of an idea to re-arrange Holst The Planets.

'Somewhere In Africa' (1983) and 'Plains Music' (1991 - featuring a trimmed down Earth Band with Noel McCalla on vocals and Barbara Thompson on sax) were inspired by Manfred Mann's South African homeland. Normal service was resumed for the follow-up 'Soft Vengeance' released in 1996, although this was distinctly AOR-slick sounding, a bit Mike & The Mechanics-ish.

Arguably, the band were best in the live situation allowing them to stretch out instrumentally although the warts and all set released in 2009 ('Bootleg Series Vols 1-5) doesn't really do this full justice as a result of inconsistent recording quality and repetition, although that is remedied here by the inclusion of the more recent Norwegian gig.

Although there is a whole disc of 'Leftovers' interestingly this excludes the bonus tracks that appeared on the late-1990s reissues. So the repackaged studio albums (in large card sleeves) merely replicate the original track listing. For completism collectors are also directed towards the 4-CD set released in 2008 'Odds & Sods: Mis-takes and Out-takes'.

Overall, though, this is a wonderful collection and it gives a proper and much-needed perspective for the band and all that is missing is a button badge and facsimile ticket.


Review by David Randall

Box set review (Bootleg Series)

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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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