Manfred Mann's Earth Band - '40th Anniversary Box Set' Hot

Added by Central Electronic Brain     March 16, 2012    
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An extraordinary box set.

South Afican born keyboardist Manfred Mann has seemingly been a fixture of the British musical scene forever, but originally burst onto the popular music scene in 1963 with his eponymously named beat and R&B combo, which developed out of the Mann-Hugg Blues Brothers that had coalesced sometime the previous year. However, it was not until their third single release ‘5-4-3-2-1’ in 1964 that the Paul Jones-fronted version of the band (Chapter 1) grabbed the record buyers attention. In 1966, Mike d’Abo replaced Jones as vocalist and Manfred Mann (Chapter 2) continued their run of hit singles. The group split in 1969, following which Manfred Mann formed Manfred Mann’s Chapter Three, and experimental jazz-rock fusion band that was far removed from the previous hit factory group, and I was one of many who found Mann’s new direction bewildering and incomprehensible.

Two albums were released on the Vertigo label, but this third chapter disbanded in 1971, and Mann moved onto his fourth chapter, and by far the most abiding: Manfred Mann’s Earthband. It is this band that is being celebrated by this tremendous career-spanning box set, comprising 21 CDs: ‘Manfred Mann's Earth Band’, ‘Glorified Magnified’, ‘Messin’, ‘Solar Fire’, ‘The Good Earth’, ‘Nightingales And Bombers’, ‘The Roaring Silence’, ‘Watch’, ‘Angel Station’, ‘Chance’, ‘Somewhere In Africa’, ‘Live In Budapest’, ‘Criminal Tango’, ‘Masque’, ‘Manfred Mann's Plains Music’, ‘Soft Vengeance’, ‘Mann Alive ‘(a double CD with a gatefold sleeve), ‘2006’, ‘Live In Ersingen 2011’ and ‘Leftovers’. Along with the CDs there is a 36-page booklet of the band's history with extensive notes for each album, a 32-page book of Manfred's own memories and anecdotes and a poster of the current band, with details of each of the albums on the other side. The CDs have been remastered and repackaged in LP-style sleeves. The albums have the original UK running order and refreshed sleeves. ‘Live In Ersingen’ is a brand-new live recording from 22 July 2011, featuring the band's latest vocalist, Robert Hart. ‘Leftovers’ is a compilation of the hit singles and rare or previously unavailable recordings.

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Musically this really is a treasure trove; a cornucopia of aural delights awaits not only the cognoscenti but also the relatively detached yet inquisitive music fan. Manfred Mann has always been about beguiling, deliciously produced and interesting music despite the revolving door of band members (I’ve counted at least five lead vocalists…) and the increasing tendency to choose to cover the songs of others. There’s also plenty of evidence of a keen sense of humour abounding. You simply HAVE to hear ‘Wherever Love Drops’ and ‘Wherever Love Drops (Part 2) on 1996’s ‘Soft Vengeance’, for instance! Occasionally, the band went off piste (‘Manfred Mann’s Plains Music’(1991)), evoked the eponymous band leader’s homeland (‘Somewhere In Afrika’ (1983)), tried to – not altogether successfully – reflect the popular music of the time (‘Criminal Tango’ (1986)) while the following year’s ‘Masque’ (the band then only a trio) is equally enigmatic and heavily jazz-tinged, but also influenced by Holst’s ‘Planet Suite’! And there are also no fewer than three live albums (hardly surprising considering the band has constantly gigged in its active years, and the previously unreleased recording from last summer suggests a band as fresh as ever.

My favourite track from the box set? Well, it’s a relatively obscure one, and is included on the previously unreleased ‘Leftovers’ album. It’s from 1984, and is a non-album single ‘Runner’, written by Canadian singer Ian Thomas. Of passing interest is the fact that this was the band’s first top 40 hit in North America since ‘Blinded By The Light’ in 1977, and coincidentally their final single release to chart anywhere. It’s a melodic rock gem…A close second is the anthemic song ‘Hillbrow’ that failed to make it onto the ‘2006’ album, and brings the Box Set to a conclusion…

Now here’s the rub. This really is an extraordinary box set – probably the best of the rapidly increasing number of whole career anthologies currently appearing. But in order to own it, you’ll currently have to shell out over £120…

Paul Jerome Smith

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