A fine multi-genre album that is a fitting addition to Jono Manson’s body of work.
For a guy who has been around the block many times over, Jono Manson exists depressingly under the radar and we can only hope that this new album, ‘Stars Enough to Guide Me’, will provide the platform for a higher profile. Manson is 62, has been releasing solo albums since 1993, and has many side projects to occupy his time – record producer, recording studio owner, sometime actor, member of various bands and songwriter/collaborator.
Born in New York City, he founded Joey Miserable and the Worms in his late teens and played with them for ten years as well as becoming involved in a number of side bands, and perfecting a wide range of musical styles – roots blues, funk, rockabilly, alt-country, R & B, pop and jump blues – that form the bedrock of his albums, including this latest one. He relocated to Santa Fe, New Mexico in 1993, where he has his recording studio Kitchen Sink Studios. Because his albums display a wide range of styles, he is difficult to pigeonhole, which might be the cause of his relative lack of familiarity, although he is very popular in Italy where he holds cult status and plays with roots-rockers The Mandolin Brothers.
‘Stars Enough to Guide Me’ is the usual eclectic mix of styles that follows on from his excellent 2020 release ‘Silver Moon’ and includes a fine selection of mostly introspective and personal songs, with catchy tunes and some excellent instrumental backing from the likes of friends Jason Crosby (keyboards and guitar), Eric Ambel (guitar) and drummer Paul Pearcy.
They are mostly contemplations on life, and getting through it and how to deal with it as he/we face the passing of time. “What can I find to say? When they ask me if I’m ok, I tell ‘em I’m doing swell, But only time will tell” is from ‘On the Downlow’. In a similar vein ‘There ain’t no new kind of blue From the day you’re born, you’re simply passing through, Just a shadow growing long, Until one day it’s all gone” is from ‘No New Kind of Blue’, a fine jaunty country tune with guest John Popper on vocals and cool harmonica. ‘Make it Through to Spring’ starts slowly with mournful fiddle, picks up pace with a lovely chorus and features lovely solos on steel and electric guitar, and is as fine a country song as you could wish for.
‘Timberline’ is a beautiful ballad with guest guitarist Trevor Bahnson, a friend from Santa Fe who has lived his life with cystic fibrosis – the song seems to speak to holding on to the glories in life before passing on. A highlight is ‘Alone’, another lovely ballad with sentiments summing up the album (and its title) and with wonderful acoustic and dobro solos – “How we’ve always been, Underneath the skin, Right down to the very bone, Until we have to go, Only then we’ll know, We can’t do it all alone”.
There are lighter moments, such as ‘Before We Get Stupid’ about dancing around the pros and cons of consummating a relationship, while ‘The Further Adventures of Goat Boy and the Clown’ is a rocking autobiographical re-enactment of a journey around Italy with a long time guitarist and friend Crosby, which almost ended in serious injury in a car crash. His R&B credentials are evidenced in ‘As Long as Grass Grows’, with subtle brass backing.
Manson is a fine songwriter and almost seamlessly makes couplets or verses rhyme. He surrounds himself with some empathetic musicians, most of whom are old friends, and some excellent vocalists including Eliza Gilkyson on the last track, the really excellent ‘Late Bloomer’- “I’m a late bloomer on the far side of the hill, I turn my face to the sunshine but I can feel the chill ——Of the winter wind that rises, when the daylight’s almost gone, And the moon on the horizon beckons me to come along”
Jono Manson deserves to be heard.