“The United State” is more than an album, it’s a journey and it’s a journey that we all take, from the cradle to the grave or, more accurately, the womb to the tomb. That’s the way Justin Wells conceived the project; he came up with concept then wrote the songs to fit in with the storyboarded sequence. It turned his normal way of writing upside down, imposing a completely different discipline to the creative process. The recording process was a similar trial, using a host of guest musicians to create some fascinating sonic textures and styles ranging across atmospheric instrumental, a cappella, country, country rock, slow blues and Southern funk to bring the story to life (and death).

The album opens in the womb with a short, atmospheric instrumental featuring slide and ambient guitar sounds and ends with the ethereal a cappella of “Farewell, Mr Hooper” representing death and between the two, there are ten strong and varied songs moving the narrative along. The second single from the album, “No Time For a Broken Heart” is out now; it’s a nod in the direction of The Band and the message is pretty simple – life ain’t easy, but we have to take what it throws at us and get on with it. The electric piano and resonator move the song just a little out of the country mainstream into more eclectic territory.

Other standouts for me are “Never Better”, a four-to-the-floor stomp with a Southern boogie feel given a twist with a touch of electric piano again and the slow blues “After the Fall” with a full band sound, including three guitars and some powerful solos and twin guitar breaks hinting at the stylings of Keith Richards and Mick Taylor/Ronnie Wood. The theme of the song is classic obsession with the ‘fallen woman’ and the inability to walk away. It’s the centrepiece of the album, showcasing Justin Wells’ rasping blues vocal and some classic blues soloing. It’s followed by the Lowell George-tinged “It’ll All Work Out”, which is dominated by keys and some lovely slide playing. The chorus sounds positive but the message is that people will tell you it’ll all work out, but it ain’t necessarily so.

“The United State” is packed with songs that work perfectly well in isolation but, in sequence, tell a universal story; we all know the ending, but the interest is in how you get there and this is a very interesting album indeed.

“The United State” is released on Friday August 28th on SINGULAR RECORDINGS (SNG202001JW).

NightlifeOK, so just to save a bit of time, we all know about Eddie Manion, yeah? Whaddya mean, no? Where have you been for the last forty years? You really should get out more. If you want the whole nine yards, check out his Wikipedia entry, but, just for the moment, his first major gig was with Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, and since then he’s played with Dion, Dave Edmunds, Diana Ross, The Allman Brothers, Willy De Ville, Keith Richards and Bob Dylan and many, many more. He was part of the E Street Band for Bruce Springsteen’s “Wrecking Ball” tour and, more recently, he’s been touring Europe with the Light of Day Foundation raising money for Parkinson’s Disease research. His motto is ‘Have Sax, Will Travel’.

Eddie Manion plays tenor and baritone sax (mainly baritone when working as part of a horn section) as well as having a pretty good voice, which you can hear on his first solo album, “Follow Through”, released in 2004. At the end of the gargantuan “Wrecking Ball” tour, Eddie started work on his second solo album “Nightlife”, opting this time for instrumental interpretations of standards and not-quite-so-standards, rather than his own compositions. It’s a double-edged sword. Both ways you’re going to be judged; one way you’re compared with others’ songwriting, the other way you’re compared with previous versions of the same songs. So how does “Nightlife” shape up?

I guess it’s natural for anyone who’s spent their entire adult life as a professional musician to want to do their own thing once in a while. Eddie Manion’s spent a lot of time playing in horn sections in big bands where nuance isn’t always too high on the agenda, so when the window of opportunity opened, he pulled together a superb bunch of musicians to make an album placing his sax playing firmly stage centre against a backdrop that allows him to interpret songs with style and subtlety. From the album’s opener, a gorgeous version of the theme from the 1961 movie “Town Without Pity”, with its piano triplets and wah-wah trumpet, to the closer “”The Only One, from Roy Orbison’s final album, the album demonstrates Eddie’s ability to create flawless interpretations of jazz standards such as “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” and “Stardust” whilst also combining Springsteen’s “City of Night” in a medley with King Curtis’s “Soul Serenade”.

Throughout “Nightlife”, Eddie Manion combines a jazz-styled finesse with a rawer rock edge to create a satisfying and varied set of instrumentals that embody great musicianship and sympathetic arrangements. If you value musical skill and the ability to pick a good tune, then you’ll love this; Eddie’s a superb player and he’s surrounded himself with like minds to produce a real musician’s album. As an added bonus, Eddie’s also a very good photographer and the CD packaging includes some of his own fabulous photos taken mainly on the “Wrecking Ball” tour; it’s the icing on the cake of a lovely album.

You can order it here.