Issue February 5, 2008

B-Sides (music & other ephemera): Manning up

Joe Manning is satisfied with his new album, Clever Bird, and if you know him, you know how satisfying it is to hear him say that.
“It is, exactly, what came out, I’m very happy to report,” Manning says of his follow-up to Chapel of the Bear.

“I wanted to make a record with a band that was quiet but very, very full, that had all the pieces, but never went over the top. I definitely wanted to make a country record as much as I know how to do, and still have it be very understated.”

Stacked to the rafters with incredible musicianship from members of Freakwater, King’s Daughters & Sons, Dead Child, Phantom Family Halo and the magical pedal steel of Eli Hall, Second Story Man, The Glasspack, among many others, Clever Bird transports you from the seductive sway of “At the What’s on Fire,” the title of which came from Manning mishearing a friend’s conversation.

“I thought, ‘This is the name of some bar somewhere that is the fucking jam,’” he says. “It’s a little fantasy idea of a place where everything is just about right, where everything is OK, at least right now.”
Bird closes out with the refreshing country barroom stomp of “The Antidote (Alternate).”

“That song is about forgiveness,” he says. A less ornate version appears earlier in the album. Asked about the two versions, he says, “Maybe it took two versions to explore everything about that, because it’s a huge topic.”

In recording Bird, Manning left huge gaps in the arrangement for the players — most of whom were never in the same room at the same time — to come in and add their parts.
The result is a country record, Manning-style. “This is an accurate representation of me playing country songs.”

Pass the bourbon, and sit your ass on the couch. This one’s gonna occupy your head for a minute.

Mat Herron is LEO’s Music Editor, and prefers the slow burn to the quick hit. Contact him at mherron@leoweekly.com