The War of the Bruces
McManus is the guy in the shadows, sitting quietly next to Vic Chestnutt
and Simon Joyner, gaining the reputation as one of the most distinctive
sidemen in a business that doesn't really value sidemen. When McManus
added his fiddle to Simon Joyner's The Cowardly Traveler Takes
His Toll, he added about a mile's worth of loneliness to the
sullen folkies' confessions. When he picked guitar alongside Chestnutt,
an Athens legend, it was like listening to two best friends telling
stories in the garage over longnecks and cigarettes.
The Bruces is
McManus playing sideman to McManus, and as much as you want to like
this, it can be a forced listen. Forced in the sense that you really
have to make a conscious effort to pay attention to what's going
on. It's very pretty musically -- a soothing, rustic thing covered
with a slight country residue (Mr. Chestnutt has indeed rubbed off
on Alex) that frequently dips into dreamy feedback. But these aren't
songs that you'd whistle after you got out of your car, let alone
sing along to when you're in it. The lyrics don't stand out on first
listen, and you'll eventually be forced to sit down and follow along
with the lyrics book. In contrast, it's impossible to ignore Joyner's
or Chestnutt's gloomy tales. Part of it is McManus' penchant for
obscure metaphors ("All the eyes are flames" "Find
your fears then make them lonely," eh?).
though, this War is worth the extra effort because of songs
like the bouncy opener "DO SI DO," the subtle banjo plunker
"Two Dogs," and the warm, sprawling "Mountain"
-- among the best tunes I've heard this year. One part John Denver,
one part Neil Young, "Mountain" starts off as a simple
folky lullaby and turns into a brooding, fuzz-guitar dirge halfway
through. Inspirational verse: "Sometimes a mirror is a mountain
and I've gotta get over it / But then I get to the end and I still
can't see shit."
This one may
or may not grow on you, but for those who make the effort, McManus'
dust-covered melodies are a road best taken.
Posted Sept. 22,
2002. Copyright © 2002 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.
one may or may not grow on you, but for those who make the effort,
McManus' dust-covered melodies are a road best taken."