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Thursday, March 10, 2016

Manna/Mirage - Blue Dogs

Mind you, I’m new to bands who have been around since the ‘70s and one of them was The Muffins. I first became aware of their music when they were mentioned in both of Jose Zegarra Holder and Adele Schmidt’s Romantic Warriors series on Rock In Opposition and the Canterbury scene. The band launched back 43 years ago in Washington D.C. and released four albums before calling it a day in the early ‘80s. They have an influence of; Canterbury Prog, Rock In Opposition, and Jazz.

So it’s a perfect combination to get your socks off and head into the dance floor. The band have moved on to different projects including Muffins own Keyboardist and Saxophonist Dave Newhouse. Taken from their debut album, the Blue Dogs idea was originally going to be the next Muffins album, but due to disagreements and the things that weren’t blending in, Newhouse himself decided to take the project on a separate album.

There are three quarters from the Muffins including Dave himself, Paul Sears on Drums, and Billy Swann on Bass. Also alongside the three members of the Muffins are; George Newhouse (Dave’s son) on Drums, Mark Stanley on Guitar, and Steve Pastena on French Horn. Recorded and mixed by Mike Potter at Orion Studios in Baltimore, in which its been home for the Progressive Rock venues and engineered by Dave himself at Abin Sur Studios in New Market, Maryland, it is a treat of what could have been the next Muffins album. Here is Dave’s treasure that is now a gem fully opened to hear and listen.

Opener, Canterbury Bells starts off with a tribute to the scene that inspired the Muffins music with elements between Hatfield and the North, Caravan, and early Soft Machine. You can hear the fuzz tone organs, woodwind instruments, mid-tempo drum section, and piano going in between lead and rhythm that makes us to go back and time and go through the albums discovering more of the Canterbury-era and why they were ahead of their time.

Duke Street is a tribute to the late great Duke Ellington. Newhouse plays in a mid-tempo style of the 1930s with a swing feel as the piano goes into different areas in the beginning in the left, center, and right in front. It has a catchy rhythm snapping-finger quality to it as you can imagine the Zoot Suit-era’s getting on the dance floor and nailing it down to the beat of the sound. Now Muffin Man Redux I really enjoy.

I love Dave’s homage to the Northettes on the Woodwinds that reminded me of Egg’s The Civil Surface-era before heading into walking extreme double bass lines done by Billy Swann as Mark Stanley does his homage to Zappa on his guitar to capture the virtuosic exhilaration’s of the Grand Wazoo himself. There are unexpected time changes throughout the whole section as if Egg had teamed up with Charles Mingus and it’s a real kicker.

The haunting Blind Eye goes into the haunting Avant-Rock and Zeuhl territory that sends shivers down the spine. There’s a bit of Rock In Opposition movement thrown in between Magma, Manfred Mann Chapter Three, King Crimson, Art Zoyd, and Univers Zero. It sends shivers down the spine between the shrieking horn solo that Newhouse channels David Jackson of Van Der Graaf Generator for a couple of seconds while the 1950s and early ‘60s walk into the streets of Paris at midnight makes it a chilling and moving walk into the beauty of France to be Lost in a Photograph.

Newhouse goes into the pictures of Dexter Gordon and John Coltrane as he plays the sax as if he is walking and entering in the Eiffel tower to hit those notes as the band follows him up into the top of the city to give a beautiful good night’s rest that makes it a beautiful composition. Then back into Swing town with Shwang Time.

It’s time travelling back into the sounds of Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, and Gene Krupa. And man, this is another favorite of mine. I love where Newhouse and the team get more down to business and the Swinging Jazz sounds between the 1930s and ‘40s, it has some catchy grooves and hitting those dance floors again.

I always wonder this composition could have been used for one of either the Betty Boop cartoons, Ren and Stimpy, or the Robert Clampett-era’s of the Warner Brothers cartoons with this track and it works well. Not to mention Steve Pastena’s chance to shine on the French Horn. Finale of the Rovian Cue, it has a glowing and shining element between the Piano and Horn Section followed by the Flute section and relaxes to close the curtain down.

This is now my fourth time listening to Blue Dogs. And with an incredible artwork done by Gonzalo Fuentes, this is more of the Jazz I’ve been waiting for a long, long time now. I might delve into The Muffins catalog sometime either this year or next year. 

But for now, Dave Newhouse and his team have done an incredible job of bringing more of the today’s Jazz into the light at the end of the tunnel. I hope they will do more for the next years to come. If you love Prog, Jazz, Avant-Rock, and ‘40s Swing Music, then delve into Manna/Mirage’s Blue Dogs.

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