Roger Joseph Manning Jr. wants to take you on a trip. Not just any trip, mind you, but one that the noted keyboard wizard/producer/arranger/songwriter would prefer to offer to you and your respective ears as an escape from the humdrum nadirand stress of everyday life and instead launch you into aworld ofpure sonic imagination.
To do just that, Manning — whose palpable aural résumé includes co-piloting the likes of Jellyfish, The Lickerish Quartet, Imperial Drag, TV Eyes, and The Moog Cookbook, in addition to his continuing role as Beck’s touring keyboardist for 24years and counting —will soon be serving up a trio of solo reissuesfor albums that have long been out of circulation and/or hard to find.Thiscatalogthreesome consists of2006’s THE LAND OF PURE IMAGINATION (DELUXE EDITION), 2008’s CATNIP DYNAMITE, and his2018 PledgeMusicEP, GLAMPING. All three releases have been dutifully remastered by longtime compatriot/mixing engineer John Paterno under Manning’s supervision.
“These albumswere all really very personal experiments I was conducting,” Manning says about his remastered solo triple replay. “Obviously, there are songs on each of them that I could just do with an acoustic guitar and a vocal, but there’s so much more fun to be had by exploring all these densely layered journeys I made.”
Indeed, each reissue offers prime Manning musical manna.From the Genesis-meets-The Beach Boys pastoral harmonic experiment of CATNIP’s “Survival Machine” to themovie-screen panorama of PURE IMAGINATION’s “Dragonfly” (a song that could easily have been subtitled “Theme From an Imaginary Spy Movie”) toGLAMPING’s “I’m Not Your Cowboy” (a modernized Last Picture Show pastiche that chronicles the arc of a manipulative relationship), the contents of each re-release exhibit many fine examples of Manning’s inherent knack forbeing able to unify individual auditoryjigsaw puzzles under one umbrella.
Not only that, but each reissue serves as a testament to Manning’s self-avowed mission to transport his audience to a certain level of sonic nirvana. “Everything I’ve ever done as an artist, whether it was with Jellyfish or all the numerous solo and sideprojects of mine, has been trying to achieve what my greatest heroes did for me, even if it was just through one or two songs,” he acknowledges.“They transported me out of whatever my surroundings were, and they helped me forget about everything that’s going on in the world. Clearly, those songs were detouring me and catapulting me into a different realm instantly through sound. And that’s all I’ve ever wanted to do with my music.”
Manning’s compositional prowess comes from many years spent mastering the art of what he calls “spontaneous improvisation.”“The hardest thing in the world to do is to start making music from scratch,” he admits. “From the minute I’m sculpting music, which is what I always do first, I’m super-meticulous about it. If I don’t hit a home run, I’m not even gonna share it with anybody--it just doesn’t happen.”
As a result, Manning has since learned how to hone his own lyric-writing chops to match his compositional craft. “The lyric always happens after the music once I believe in it, and it’s doing the job I’ve set out for it to do,” he explains. “Now, if I do my job right, I create a marriage between the music and the lyric. I create a lyric that significantly leads the way, and the music supports it. It’s very backwards to the way a lot of people write, but that’s just how it’s always been for me. Typically, my lyrics come from some mumblings and other gibberish,” Manningsums up with a chuckle, “but I love the reward, so I can force myself to put in the time and the discipline to let spirit speak through me uninhibited.”
Manning cites a pair of emphasis tracks--CATNIP’s ’70s-styled 8-track pop confection, “Down in Front,” and PURE IMAGINATION’s hopeful hymnal “Pray for the Many”--as prime examples of how those sharply honed arrangement dominos can sometimes fall right into place. “The concept of forgiveness was not only something that carried over from Christianity, but it had a deeper, more comprehensive meaning for me than it ever had in the Catholic teachings, which is what that song stems from,” Manning reveals about “Pray for the Many,” which initially came together in 2005-06. “It’s basically the idea of, we’re all running around like chickens with our heads cut off,because we’re trying to find meaning and purposein our lives--all the basic questions philosophers have pursued ad infinitum--and I wanted to put that into a little pop setting. True meaning and purpose is something you cultivate as you go deeper throughout the course of your life. It’s all very personal for you. If ‘Pray for the Many’ provides 3½ minutes of comfort and it inspires people to look past what they see, then I’m all for it!”
Finally, GLAMPING replants its own flagpole with the addition of three live tracks mixed by the EP’s co-writer andManning’s solo bandmate, Chris Price: “What You Don’t Know About the Girl,”PURE IMAGINATION’s whimsical ode to a girlfriend who turns perhaps a few too many heads), “Operator” (GLAMPING’s desperate call for any kind of connection), and “Creeple People” (PURE IMAGINATION’s funktastic look at the cost of aspirational highbrow living).“I’m glad we could include a few extra tracks taken from that one full-length concert I did,” Manning observes. “We may even trickle out the rest of that show at some pointif people want to hear more.”
Within the purview of these three reissues, Manning reinforces his status as a card-carrying“Solid State Warrior” (a nod to the title of his debut solo album), whoalso remains unafraid of mixing and matching analog gear with digital effects to achieve the ultimate sonic result he desires. “I’ve never been precious about getting to the finish line,” he notes. “I’m more interested in figuring out what’s going to help us get what we hear in our heads as accurately as possibleand sound as good as possible. What are all the things the guitar can do to convey an idea? What are all the things the bass and the keyboards can do, not to mention what the human voice can do with background vocals and other stuff? This is what endlessly fascinates me, and I’ve really enjoyed playing in those areas.”
To that end, Manning feels the 33 tracks spread across these three updated releases more than attain his earlier ascribed goal of enabling audience transcendence. “It’s really about inviting people to get lost in my world for a while, and hopefully, that will help as a medicinal effect too, because that’s what music does for me,” he concludes. “All this music obsession is why I don’t have vices. To me, music is just the gift that keeps on giving. There’s no tax for deriving joy from music. And if the music from these reissues can helpany of my longtimefans or new listenersescape for even a little bit, nothing would make me happier.”
Cue up any of Roger Joseph Manning Jr.’s one-man Wrecking Crew-style reissues, and see just how quickly these unburied treasures put a smile on your face and a spring in your step.Welcome to the land of pure imagination — Manning’s magical music will show you how to play.
Photo: Jay Gilbert