ELLIS MANO BAND: ‘LIVE – ACCESS ALL AREAS’

March Album of the Month

Ellis Mano Band - Access All Areas
(5/5)

I sit here writing this with a nice glass of red. The album has been on loop all day. With early signs of spring in the air today – clear blue sky, the first daffodils breaking through the ground and even sight of a deer wandering past the rock caravan – Ellis Mano Band’s music has given the musical heart to colour a happy day. As evening draws in, the lights dimmed and with a recharged glass of red, I have to say this is the perfect way to really soak in this mesmerisingly authentic live album. For this review, I’m going to reflect on how this album makes me feel as I listen to it. Others can recite the facts, forensically assess the merits of each track and talk about production points I wouldn’t even understand. But for me that misses the point; this album is the unpolluted sharing of artistic expression: it’s about the album as a whole, how the music makes you feel, and the pictures you let it paint in your mind. It’s an album that takes you back to what the point of music is – how it fires the emotions, charges the imagination and delights the soul.

Ellis Mano Band have been firm listener favourites with Great Music Stories for some years now. They’ve had two previous albums of the month, and then ‘Single of the Year’ for a song that was never actually a single, but magically – and totally organically – generated a massive groundswell of requests that kept it on the rockshow playlist for a year. ‘Good To Go’ was the people’s song, outshining all of those cool and ever-so hyped commercial singles where big budgets and pay to play are often the order of the day. The band as people have been so popular on the show; our run of interviews always fun, always engaging – they’re truly good people. Despite all this progress, it remains true that Ellis Mano Band is an act few of us in the UK have actually had the chance to see live. And that is a reason why the imminent arrival of this fine double live album is so welcome. It shares a sense of the music’s true personality, when it is ‘alive’ in a concert setting. And the result is emphatic.

My first reaction after a full first listen to the album was to take a moment and reflect “OK, so this is the real deal.” We engage today in a rock/blues music scene where so much of it is about numbers – the likes, the shares, the streaming figures, even the chart positions. Bands, it seems, are being pushed to focus on becoming likeable brands, whereby everyone’s chasing numbers and affirmation. There’s too much invention, too much profile that’s actually paid for. And there’s so much music coming out that seems designed to hit a formula – yet often sounds a bit too much like something we’ve heard before. Set against this, Ellis Mano Band are just themselves. Nothing is bigger than the music, nothing gets in the way of the music. There is truth in the music being just what it is.

Turning to the music on this new live album, there is assured mastery throughout. The variety of song styles is eclectic, yet they work together as a cohesive whole. The rich diversity in light and shade actually makes the album more interesting. The band can break into frenzied improvisations or they can be economic; the art can be in the playing but it’s also there in the spaces they create within the music. They don’t have the hype of other acts, but it’s when you hear real quality playing there’s an instant reset – you remember what good really sounds like.

Before we delve further into the music, a quick warning – ‘Good To Go’ isn’t on this album. Whilst some rockshow listeners may need to pause at this point for counselling or mild sedation, the truth is that this album is a great opportunity to explore more fully the breadth and depth of the band’s catalogue.

And the breadth and depth is what makes this live album so enjoyable. There are so many elements that influence the band’s sound. There’s blues, there’s rock but there’s also jazz and a hint of soul. There’s a bit of prog too. There’s intense moments and there’s ballads. This is music that makes a mockery of genre silos as it’s near impossible to say who this band sound like. In truth, they don’t sound like anyone else – they sound like Ellis Mano Band. The signature of any great band is their sound is their own and, with this band, it’s the widely eclectic mix of song styles they make work together that actually makes Ellis Mano Band stand out. As a live set, this contrast of styles also is what makes the album so thoroughly enjoyable.

It opens solidly with ‘Whiskey’ and ‘Turtle,’ two solid bluesy tracks magnificently played. But just as you think you’ve got the measure of the album you’re into jazz and ballads. And just as you get the measure of that, the band stray off into mesmerising free-form improv work. The haunting menace of ‘Blue Paranoia’ then takes you somewhere else and just as you prepare for a dramatic close, there’s yet another twist as you get the quiet beautiful control of ‘Luck Of The Draw.’ It’s a complete journey, the sum is greater than the parts. And most welcome of all, it’s an album that makes a nonsense of streaming playlists. You can’t enjoy this album as a track here, a track there. This album is a tour de force journey – and you have to go on that journey and stick with it for 90 minutes. You can only seriously appreciate it on a CD or double vinyl, and that’s no bad thing at all.

I love the playing on the album. There are tracks where the bass and drums define the character of songs. There are many moments where the guitar playing is the highlight and the keys too have real moments to shine. The vocal performances are exceptionally good, both in terms of the storytelling and the phrasing. But throughout, no one is showing off. Sometimes the class is in the simplicity, sometimes the impact is in the intensity, but it’s the intuitive chemistry between the artists that creates the magic. Young bands that are all about being showy, being as loud as they can be, as frenetic as they can be – can take a big leaf out of this book. The grown-ups are in town and they don’t need to make a racket to thoroughly convince you that they know exactly what they’re doing.

I don’t often pick live albums for album reviews, but given the crisis facing the future of many theatres and clubs, we maybe need to make a point to celebrate live albums that really embody the magic you only get in a concert hall. This album really does that. And it doesn’t actually need an accompanying DVD or video release, because with this album the audio more than adequately fires up your senses and inspires your imagination. And that, after all, is what music is all about.

It was announced earlier today that Ellis Mano Band will be on the road in mainland Europe supporting Deep Purple and this live album will easily help to explain why. It also reminds me how much we in the UK have suffered artistically since Brexit. A great band ripping it up in Europe but we in the UK are missing the party – as it’s become so much more difficult for UK bands to tour Europe and bands from the mainland to come to our shores. This album at least will go some way to underscore why festivals and promoters need to redouble efforts to get Ellis Mano Band over to the UK very soon.

In summary, I think the thing I like about Ellis Mano Band is they are under-stated but quality assured. And this album conveys that too. In a rock world where so many rock promoters and media are trying to create new rock gods; where maturing fan clubs can get obsessive about eulogising everything their favourite band does (whether it’s good or not) and where brand hype is sometimes well out of control (compared to the artistic merit of what you might sometimes hear coming out your speakers) – in this world we actually need bands that remind us what the art good music is all about. We don’t need rock Gods anymore; we need great musicians – people whose vocation is the art of good music well played. This live album does that and resets the bar on what good looks like. Welcome everyone to the live music world of Ellis Mano Band – and their compelling universe of sound.

Ellis Man Band – ‘Live Access All Areas’ is released by SPV on March 15, 2024 and will be available as 2-CD / 2-LP and download 

Pre-orders
Pre-order the album here https://ellismanoband.lnk.to/Live.

Band links

www.ellismanoband.com

https://www.facebook.com/EllisManoBand

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