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Harry Manx


Canadian roots music has always had an off-kilter quality. That is to say, it shares instrumentation (guitars, mandolins, pedal-steels, harmonicas, etc.), form (mostly three chords), and subject matter (small towns, love, sex, drinking, etc.) with the U.S.A. variety, but somehow always sounds a little different--like when you are dreaming and things seem familiar but not quite the same. Artists like Fred Eaglesmith, Ray Bonneville, Daniel Lanois, and Kevin Breit travel the same dusty roads as American roots musicians, and do so brilliantly, but in a kind of parallel universe.

Canadian Harry Manx is an excellent example of this phenomenon. Puremusic readers may remember his story from FG's review of Jubilee, but to recap: Manx plays a lap guitar, but rather than the typical Dobro, he favors the Mohan veena--a 20-stringed sitar/guitar designed by Rajasthani Indian musician Vishwa Mohan Bhatt (Grammy winner with Ry Cooder for A Meeting by the River) with whom he studied for five years. It is with this unusual tool that he fashions music combining folk, blues, country, and Indian elements. Or as Harry puts it, "The way I see it, Blues is the earth and Indian music is like the heavens. What I do is try to find the balance between the two." And find that balance he does. Manx manages to make the folk-pop of "Your Sweet Name" butt up against the instrumental "Afghani Raga" like lovers spooning, and sitar-like drones sound at home in a blues.

If Jubilee was a guitar fest (his co-performer on that disc, Kevin Breit, is one of the best axe-slingers on the planet), Mantras For Madmen puts the focus more on the songs and Harry's voice. His sound is typical of the unforced, laid back, soulful style favored by his countrymen; well suited to a letter perfect reading of JJ Cale's "San Diego-Tijuana." Manx's performance on that tune, and first-rate songs like his own "Don't Take His Name Away" and "It Takes A Tear," demonstrates that you don't have to raise your voice to raise chicken-skin. Only the Band song, "It Makes No Difference," finds him a little unsure of his vocal footing and reminds you that it took a singer as special as Rick Danko to make it work in the first place.

Harry and his North of the Border cohorts have carved out a niche in the Americana sound-stream that forces it to encompass all of North America. If this is a parallel universe, it is one well worth visiting. • Michael Ross

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