Harry Manx

Clarendon Guest House, September 1


Harry Manx 2
Harry Manx. Photo supplied.

Harry Manx strips music back to its most basic building blocks, and then adds embellishments as deftly as the most Spartan of poets adds a simile. On one level little changes across a song, a set, a year or his career, but then his main game lies in nuance, not grand gestures, and these nuances are enough to keep compounding the gentle spell cast by his folk-blues with its distinctive Subcontinental spice.

If understatement is his musical framework, honesty is the beating heart. Manx is devoid of pretension. He is the sort of bare-bones troubadour you might find busking, and to that raw honesty he adds natural warmth and charm. His voice has grown murkier and closer to the gravel-rash hoarseness of Tom Waits, while still being able to rear up on a pungent line and score an emotional hit. Although he has never had much in the way of range, he certainly keeps power in reserve for such moments.

In addition to conventional acoustic slide guitar Manx played steel guitar, banjo, four-string cigar-box guitar and his trademark 20-string Mohan veena. As on other recent Australian tours he was accompanied by Clayton Doley on keyboard, who mostly used a replica Hammond B3 sound. Doley took some arresting solos, notably on Baby Please Don’t Go, Make Way for the Living and I Can’t Be Satisfied. But elsewhere he could also be a nudge too busy when compared with Manx’s knack for creating a solo out of the absolute minimum notes that still packs a sting. Such glistening guitar features happened repeatedly, including on Baby Please Don’t Go, Tijuana and Bring That Thing.

As previously Manx opted to use a simple drum-machine pulse behind the pair throughout, which only served to emphasise the rhythmic similarity of eighty percent of his material. A more judicious use of the device would go a long way to further delineating the character of individual songs. As it was the stand-outs included a compelling, steamy version of Summertime, with an Indian-flavoured refrain doubled by guitar and synthesizer that helped lift the piece out of its potential monochromy.

For a complete list of Harry Manx’s Australian tour dates see http://harrymanx.com/tour/