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Non-Prog CD Reviews

Mike Mangione

Tenebrae

Review by Gary Hill

Mike Mangione’s music falls into the “singer songwriter” category that has been so popular over the last ten years or so – not necessarily in terms of radio airplay or sales, but in terms of artists performing in that genre. His music is good. In fact, any one song taken by itself is great. The album as whole is not as strong as that, though. To explain why I need to stand on my soap box, so please indulge me.

To fully understand this phenomenon, we need to look at the era of the big record labels. Yes, these labels ruled the music world with an iron fist, but there is a reverse side to this sword. They understood how to make albums. They knew that a great album is not just a collection of great songs. That’s why they would put proven producers onto albums. These guys understood that too much of anything just doesn’t work. If you have too many songs back to back that sound very much like each other it gets harder and harder with each track to hear any difference between them. The album becomes like one long song. You need variety in volume and intensity, volume in tempo and other alterations to make an album that works. Otherwise what you have is one monolithic piece of music that is sure to bore any but the most enamored listener.

Mangione could really have used someone like that navigating his musical waters. What he has given us is a CD that is a collection of great songs. It is not an album that you can get through without yawning and possibly falling asleep. I would highly recommend downloading (legally of course) any and all the songs on here. They are excellent. But I’d put other music in between them on your MP3 player. Alternately you could just buy the CD and rip it. Whatever you do, listen to this music. You’ll like it. But don’t try to listen to the entire album in sequence. If you are driving a car this recommendation is even more important. Sleeping at the wheel is never a good thing. So, to recap – there are twelve great songs on this CD. Unfortunately that doesn’t make a great album. It only makes a collection of great songs.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2008  Volume 5 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Waiting For No One
Mangione starts us out with this slow, bluesy rocker. It’s got a bit of the modern singer songwriter vibe to it, too. When other music elements and textures come in to bring this up later it’s brought to a whole new level in terms of intensity and emotion.

It's Me, Not You
Percussion leads things off here. A count up brings in a serious singer songwriter groove with an alternative rock texture to it. The arrangement on this one gets pretty intense and has a hint or two of progressive rock. Some bits of classical strings serve as a nice touch. Those strings get more of a full blown treatment later in the track.
The Killing Floor
The music on this reminds me a bit of something from Mazzy Star. It’s moody and mellow. It’s got a definite atmospheric air to it. It’s a cool tune and a nice change of pace. I’m just not sure I’d consider it to be a standout. It gets powered up a bit more later.
First Time: Please Forgive Me
This comes in with the most tentative moments we’ve heard thus far. The guitar brings it in a little and then the vocals join in a stripped down, rather bluesy pattern. It turns quite powerful (and a bit like The Band and The Grateful Dead meet The Dave Matthews Band) mid song. This is still slow moving and rather moody. We get a lot of classical strings on this track.
You Don't Wanna Leave
I like this one a lot. It’s got a chugging train sort of rhythm and a jazz trio meets Dire Straits sound. It’s actually somewhat different than a lot of the other music here. It’s one of the highlights of the disc and gets quite high energy as it carries on.

Slowdown
As the title suggests, this one slows things down – a lot. It’s got that tentative sort of feeling to the intro like we heard on “First Time: Please Forgive Me.” This doesn’t rise up nearly as quickly as that one, though. Instead it stays pretty well immersed in this slow mellow motif for longer. It’s got a definite folk rock edge to it. This never really rises far. Nor does it vary from the guitar and vocal motif.
It's a Hard Road to Crawl
I like the slope which brings this up a lot. I also really like the catchy sort of balladic motif that makes up the song proper. In fact, with it’s changy guitar line and evocative vocals this might be my favorite cut on the disc. The harmonica solo brings a Dylanesque feel to it.
Now That It's Done: Won't You Come
Here we get another slow balladic piece. This is a cool one, too, but by this point the formula is getting just a little stale. Harmonica shows up on this track, too and we do get a tasty guitar solo.
I'm Sorry Again
Again the mellow ballad approach is stretched a bit thin by this point, but the string heavy arrangement keeps this one from falling into mediocrity – or worse.
Great Divide
Here we get – you guessed it – another ballad. By this point it’s really wearing thin and everything is sounding the same. I’m sure this is a good track. It would be nice if it had some room of its own to show that fact off.
A Requiem for the Trash
And here we go again. Another track that’s just like the rest. Again, I bet if this were put against something different it would stand out. Here it’s more like white text on white paper – indistinguishable. The string arrangement and emotional quality of this are great. I wish they were given a placement to let them really shine.  

Mama, Be Not Afraid
At least Mangione rocks out for the last track. This is one of the better tracks on show here and helps to go out on a high note. It’s not breaking any molds, but it’s a strong tune and good closing shot.
 
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