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Joe Mannix: White Flag

Jason MacNeil

Joe Mannix

White Flag

Label: Bongo Beat
US Release Date: 2003-03-25
UK Release Date: Available as import

Joe Mannix has built a reputation in the same way as so many singer-songwriters before him -- get a buzz on the underground New York City circuit, hone your skills for some time, and hope that you break through at some point with some semblance of success and artistic merit. Although Joe Mannix has performed and released two albums as the lead singer for Mannix, the Long Island native opted for a sound mecca that isn't quite as well known as it should be: Hamilton, Ontario. The home of legendary producer Daniel Lanois, one of Lanois's students, Glenn Marshall, engineered this album. And from the outset, that sparse, fragile sound and atmosphere that is always present in Lanois's work is immediately apparent in the opening "Silver Girl". Here, Mannix battles over what sounds like either the recording equipment or the brushing of drummer Chris Peck.

Mannix's voice isn't that distinct from others, but there are traces of Michael Penn, Neil Finn, and David Gray in his vocals. The soft and near tear-inducing tone he hits halfway through "Silver Girl" is fantastic before the harmonica is added. "Bellecrose Hill" is more of the friendly pop folk sound that brings to mind Ron Sexsmith and, in particular, Ryan Adams circa Gold. "All hail and applaud the wounded modern man / You make yourself a martyr to gain the upper hand", Mannix sings to a nice toe-tapping beat. Mannix never goes for a louder, fuller sound, which keeps each song flowing along. "Light after the Darkness" is a softer and more melancholic side of Mannix. Here, he uses the standard one voice, one acoustic guitar to get his message across. "There's light after the darkness and hope in your song", he sings before a piano comes on the scene.

"Bamboo" is another slow folk song that, for the first time, doesn't quite work as well as it could. The other instruments come into assist, but not as gradually as they could for a better effect. However, by the minute mark all is forgotten as Mannix hits some beautiful notes, showing his range and, more importantly, depth. "Higher Intervention" is the first touch of electric hums and guitar. There's a certain dark and morose alternative rock undertone as Mannix sings about trying to be in a rock and roll band. But the intensity of the song doesn't quite come up to snuff. Everything sounds as if it's tamed far too much for its own good, leaving a certain bland chorus to wilter. "Caroline" doesn't fare much better, but Mannix manages to pass the ballad over the bar with some insightful and vivid lyrics.

The title track has a certain edge and roughness to it that is most welcome. An electric guitar bubbles under the surface while Mannix doesn't quite "rock out". Here is the only point thus far where Mannix opens himself up and loosens his grip on the song, making it one of the better risks he opens himself up to. "Dream" is a solid lullaby Mannix takes at face value and occasionally whispers a lyric. "Port Aransas" has a certain laid-back and relaxed atmosphere to it, resembling the Big Apple version of Jimmy Buffett, if such a thing exists. "Everyman" takes a trace of Springsteen and might be a reference to the events of September 11 and the questions it evokes. It's one of his more powerful performances and is a highlight. "Is there anybody up there looking out for everyman", Mannix asks.

"The Echo", written by Ernest Mannix, is a slower, country-tinged narrative about being alone and left behind. It finds a nice pace about ninety seconds in and keeps it there for most of the remainder. "House Is Not A Home" has a certain doo wop feeling to it despite being only vocal and acoustic guitar. It's one of the sleepers of the record also. Not to be mistaken for a similar title from the Rembrandts, this song is rooted in a great arrangement and groove. It almost comes off as a neo-Celtic attempt. Mannix's greatest quality is recognizing what he can and can't do and sticking to it. "Moving On" has a certain Dylan character about it as the drums pick up their tempo slightly. A bonus track is added, entitled "A Meditation", but by then most will have suspected what is apparent here. Mannix is a quality songwriter that should be around for years, whether he makes the front covers of music magazines or not!

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