Phil Manzanera ‘Live at the Curious Arts Festival’ – Album Review

                Have you ever seen one of those Tarantino moves where some badass is driving along a desert highway in a vintage ride, the past in the rear-view, and the unknown road ahead of them?  Yeah…that’s exactly how “High Atlas,” the first track off of Phil Manzanera’s latest release, ‘Live at the Curious Arts Festival’ makes you feel.  You don’t know where the hell this journey is taking you, you just know that it’s going to be one strange trip, man. 

                The best part of the trip?  It takes the scenic route.  Not content to proceed along the safe, well-traveled road of rock, this record (which sounds so pristine you will forget that it was recorded live until you hear the audience erupt in applause) offers up a banquet of blues, rock, jazz, techno, folk…you name it.  Sublimely crafted, this album features something for everyone, including just about every instrument imaginable, oftentimes in the same song.  ‘Magdalene’ is a prime example of this.  Though the song begins with a dreamy, hazy instrumental ala Lana del Rey’s “Shades of Cool,” it takes a turn for the funky, seamlessly shifting to a Santana sounding groove part of the way in.  This illustration of blending current era “can’t really put a label on me” blues with the rhythmic rock of yesteryear is likely a result of Phil Manzanera and his band mates themselves. Though he is a seasoned music vet, Manzanera chose to assemble a fresh set of talent for his accompanying group The Sound of Blues band, which is composed largely of artists in their 20’s.  One artist is guest vocalist Sonia Bernadrdo, who appears on several tracks including “Take a Chance with Me,” “Love is the Drug,” and “More Than This,” in which the singer sounds like a ‘Frank’-era pre-fame Amy Winehouse.

                Think you’ve nailed the rhythm of this record?  Think again.  The hypnotic, synth infused ‘1960 Caracus’ sounds like the electro love child of David Bowie’s “Fashion” and Lady GaGa’s “Artpop.”  Likewise, “Stormy Weather” takes an unexpected turn, exploring the group’s ambient and avant-garde side, fusing a trance beat with an upbeat horn solo.  Then of course, there is “No Church in the Wild,” the cover of Jay-Z and Kanye West’s 2011 track from ‘Watch the Throne,’ which has been adapted so greatly that it is nearly unrecognizable on this album (quite a feat considering the original is pretty definitive).

               What can you say about Phil Manzanera’s ‘Live at the Curious Arts Festival’?  It’s cool and hip without trying to be, it’s eclectic enough to keep you interested, and it manages to blend everything AND the kitchen sink while still managing to come across as organic.  If you like cool, unexpected journeys than push play, strap in, and enjoy what’s definitely one hell of a fun and unpredictable ride.

Kelly Mason

Chimera Magazine