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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Eric Mantel

The Unstruck Melody

Review by Gary Hill

I have to say, when I put this CD into the player I wasn't expecting to be blown away. Well, that's exactly what happened. This guy is an incredible guitarist, but also a good songwriter and so much more. He does far more than just the guitar on this disc, but it's probably the guitar work that will impress the most. This is already a contender to be in the top ten or so discs of the year.

I'm including this one in the prog category, but not every song on the CD fits into that genre. The music stretches into 70's oriented classic rock, jazz and other stylings. One thing I need to mention here is that of all the guitarists in the world Steve Howe (Yes) is my favorite. Well, there are times when Mantel nearly convinces me that I'm listening to one of Howe's solo albums. I also hear such guitar gods as Gary Hoey, Steve Vai and Joe Satriani on here. The man can master the fretboard with a passion and skill that's right up there with all of those guys. The thing is, Mantel also has that oft-missed talent to change things up from song to song. That makes this disc exceptionally entertaining.

The Unstruck Melody should definitely be of interest to fans of virtuoso guitar playing. The truth is, though, it should be on the "must have" list of fans of melodic rock, fusion and other styles, too. You just don't get much better than this. With all the CD's I get to review I tend to be a hard sell, but Eric Mantel definitely won me over with this killer disc.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2006 Volume 4 at

Track by Track Review
Act I
The Unstruck Melody
Starting with the sounds of a whistling man walking, he then asks, "I wonder what's on the radio." The dial is shifted around sitting from time to time on segment of different cuts from this album - along with the typical radio fodder. Eventually, though, white noise leads to the sounds of nature (first crickets, then waves), then a tolling bell takes over until a guitar wails triumphantly. Elements of sitar music come in amidst this and take over for a while. The guitar returns at the end to finish this off. While I gave definite descriptions of this, in all honesty it's basically a piece of ambiance designed to be an introductory piece to the disc.
This one comes in with a metallic sounding guitar riff, but it quickly jumps more toward fusion-like sounds. I hear quite a bit of Joe Satriani in this joyous introduction. As the changes begin to ensue, though there are Steve Howe like features that come in to merge with this sound. Mantel's is a magical musical journey. It weaves a thrilling expedition of varying elements of sound, but never becomes noodly or noisy. Instead the melody is the key point of this instrumental track. This is almost five minutes, and my guess - from the sound of the track and the steadily changing motifs (not to mention the title) - is that Mantel is touching on the musical stylings of a lot of his heroes. Such is the tribute of this.
The Simple Things
This cut comes in with a more casual swinging jazz type of mode. The first track with vocals, they fit quite well into this nearly funky ballad styling. While I wouldn't consider this my favorite song on the disc its gentle smooth groove serves as a nice respite after the frantic changes of the last number. Mantel does include one (the first of a couple) change up in the form of quite a proggy (but still quite gentle) verse and instrumental break combination. After this it moves out into a killer guitar solo movement that maintains the main theme of the track. This part starts out in a very mellow "clean" mode, and then shifts to a more distorted, but still not over the top, jam. He pulls it back to the central themes to finish it off in a satisfying manner, but does manage another tasty guitar solo in the process.
The Real You
Coming in with a retro groove, this one is more of a bluesy, funky rocker. It's a lot of fun. A great processed guitar sound adds to that old-school sound. This instrumental has a lot of '70's rock, but also a heavy dosage of fusion at its core. Mantel ups the ante with a smoking talk box solo. Does anyone besides me miss the days when they were common?
Named after the Asian martial art/discipline, this is a tasty, mellow jazz number. It's smooth, but definitely not boring. What this instrumental lacks in compositional diversity it more than makes up with its meaty musical mantra.
Shine On
Well, if Steve Howe's name showed up in the review of "Tribute," it really needs to be here, too. The opening segment of this one sounds a lot like it could have come from one of Howe's solo releases. The verse and chorus segment of this, though are more in a jazzy oriented pop rock mode. This is one of the catchiest cuts of the disc. I suppose part of that is the fact that this one is the first in a little while with vocals, but the hooks are definitely out here. Some more of those Howe-like elements show up in the instrumental break later. In fact I hear Howe in parts of the guitar solo, but also other sounds, too.
Under A Different Light
A more mysterious air starts this one off in dramatic style. It's essentially a ballad, but there's a lot more to it than that. Mantel works some guitar solos in on this one that have just a hint of flamenco to them, but also plenty of jazz. I guess from that aspect you could say that there are elements of Al Dimeola here, but that's very minor. I do hear some Pat Metheny, though, but more in the arrangement of this instrumental than anything else. As it powers out later, though, there are more of those Howe-textures in the composition, but I also think of Eric Johnson here.
This is another jazzy groove with a lot of neo-prog included in the song structure. The thing is, it also features an extremely accessible chorus. The multi-layered vocal arrangement later calls to mind early Yes a bit. The guitar soloing on this track, while not flashy, is quite tasty.
Why So Lonely
Church bells feature heavily in the arrangement as this balladic number begins. It's dramatic, but also just a little odd. I mean that in a good way, though. This one is a little less mainstream than some of the other material. I would say that it fits pretty firmly into the balladic prog territory. It's not one of my favorites here, but that's more about the strength of the rest of the disc than it is about any weakness in this number.
Exit 10
Now this instrumental is all Steve Howe! I could seriously imagine this being on a solo album of his, and there are moments that remind me of The Yes Album era Yes. I like this instrumental a lot, but then again, I'm a Howe fanatic. Some the guitar work on this is just about trademark Steve Howe. It does move out into some different territory at points, but overall this one is very Howe-like.
This is an extremely brief 45 seconds in length. It's an acoustic, Arabic music solo.
Act II
This one is another that's part classic rock and part smooth jazz. It's also further evidence that Mantel can construct catchy hooks with the best of them.
Affectionately Yours
The echoes of Steve Howe return on this pretty acoustic guitar solo.
There Are No Words
With a title like that you'd expect an instrumental. Well, Mantel doesn't surprise here. That's just what we get. This one is another that combines classic rock stylings with jazz textures. It also includes some Steve Howe like moments along with textures that call to mind other guitarists of similar talent-levels. This is another solid one on a disc that's full of them. Mantel sets the fret-board on fire later with his guitar pyrotechnics, but still keeps it smooth and tasteful.
Wings of Fire
While a lot of the album has been rooted in other guitar masters this one comes in with waves of Jimi Hendrix. As it moves forward the more funky jazz stylings take over, though. While the cut continues like this as the guitar solo enters the Hendrix elements come back to light. This instrumental is another awesome one. The only quibble I have with this one is that at the end Mantel turns a bit noodly on the outro. Still, it's not any more superfluous than Eddie Van Halen sometimes gets - and people love that - so maybe I just have a lower tolerance for the practice.
Only Want Your Love
This one is probably more straight classic rock oriented than anything on the disc. That said, the chorus is all prog rock in terms of arrangement. Mantel's soloing on this one leans quite a bit towards the metallic. He's also purely on fire at points here.
True Home
The introduction here includes a woman singing acappella in a language I can't place. As the rock instrumentation enters it's in a very neo-prog sort of motif. There are points in this one that have that Pat Metheny like arrangement. It also has a catchy vocal line. This one is another of the standout tracks on the disc. I'd hate to pick one, but this might be my favorite.
Finger Pickin' Country
OK, folks, remember, Steve Howe has done some definite country-oriented music. I'd put this instrumental right in the same territory. In fact, it is another that has some strong echoes of Howe's sound. This is a fast paced twangy guitar showcase. The bridge has Steve Howe written all over it.
Don't Let the Day Go By
Probably the most purely progressive rock piece on the disc, this one reminds me quite a bit of Yes. That comes in terms of the arrangement, not the vocals. This is a potent cut and my other possibility for favorite showing of the CD.
Unlisted Track
I think if there is one decision I'd really question here it's putting this silly little track on the disc. I think that ending it on the high note of "Don't Let the Day Go By" would have made for a stronger conclusion. Still, this is relatively innocuous and brief.
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