The Pat McManus Band - 'Dark Emerald Highway' (Rock House Music) Print E-mail
CD Reviews
Written by Mark Ashby   
Monday, 14 October 2013 02:50

Pat McManus Band - Dark Emerald Highway ArtworkRegular Über Röck readers (all 1 million plus of you) will know I am a huge – no, make that HUGE – fan of the man myself and many, many others for more years than we collectively care to remember have called, with deep affection and respect, ‘The Professor’.  Criminally ignored by the mainstream media, Pat McManus lives for one thing and one thing only – and that is playing music.


Brought up in the folk traditions of his native County Fermanagh by his late father, Pat’s musical pedigree is incomparable: you probably don’t need me to tell you that he first found fame, together with his two brothers, with the hugely under-rated Mama’s Boys in the 1980s – a band who, while still one of my all-time favourites and for whom I retain a lot of affection, were ruined, in my humble opinion, by commercial pressures, which, coupled with their own Irish naivety, led them in a direction they did not really want to go, before, of course, the tragic death of young Tommy McManus lead to the decision to call it a day.


Pat has never forgotten his roots: he still lives in the village where he was born, he values his family above all else, he still teaches both guitar and fiddle to young up and coming Irish trad musicians (one of his prodigees is a current world champion fiddle player) and thinks nothing of popping down his local pub and sitting in on a ceilidh.


‘Dark Emerald Highway’ is The Professor’s most personal, reflective (especially musically) and introspective album to date. Large over it looms the shadow of his late father, who passed away earlier this year – an experience which hit McManus, a deeply private man, hard (as I said above, he holds family values dear): but, it is not a dark shadow… it is a shadow which looks benignly over his shoulder and nods in approval at the man, the musician, the maestro his little Patrick has become.  


Opener ‘S Before X’ is a typically cheeky, southern-infused, McManus romper stomper, built on a rolling riff, very much in the vein of ‘Danger Zone’ from his previous ‘Walking Through Shadows’ studio offering. ‘Transformation’ builds from a funky bass line and a soul-infused main riff into foot-stomping rocker with a new wave edge to it, before he eases off the pedal with the first ballad, ‘Loving Kind’, with its laidback riff and vocal and another almost wistful solo, with the voicebox effect in the latter section harking back to an early version of ‘Needle In The Groove’. ‘Let’s Turn It Up’ is a mid-paced rocker which invites you to do just that – and “pour another glass of gin” in the process – and again very reminiscent of Mama’s Boys in its feel and sound.


‘Lazy Days’ is one of the album's standout tracks: it’s pure Thin Lizzy, in the most respectful of senses (much more so, in my opinion, than the recent Black Star Riders offering), recalling his early days in the music business – a time when “we piled in our car with beat up guitars” and “no journey was too near or too far”:  a time when “we wore raggedy rock ‘n’ roll T-shirts and jeans with holes in the knees”:  a time of “lazy days and crazy nights” when the music was all that mattered. A paean to his younger brother, it’s a song which would not have sounded out of place on any of Lizzy’s Gary Moore era albums and is, as I said, respectful as well as heartfelt in its tribute to the rich legacy which Phil Lynott (and his bandmates) have left us.  


‘Cold Town’ is another understated, laidback ballad, reminiscent of the Boys’ ‘Lonely Soul’: built on a gently picked guitar line, it’s underpinned with a haunting organ refrain and characterized by another beautiful solo of the type that raises the hairs on your arms and sees your hand raise unconsciously in the direction of your tear ducts. ‘Fallen  Angel’ is another middle-of-the-road rocker, taking the theme of watching your children grow up and make the same mistakes you did at their age, but how you always take them back into your arms. It’s another song with a funky, soul-drenched feel to it, and contains a solo which shows just how proficient the Professor is at fitting so many different moods into just a few bars. By contrast, ‘Shame On You’ is perhaps the heaviest song he has recorded in the last 20 years, with a hard-as-nails staccato riff blending beautifully into the swirling melody, while Pat’s vocal is bitter and acidic, displaying an anger he rarely lets bubble to the surface: this is one of many songs on this album which I’m sure will quickly become a firm favourite in Pat’s live shows.


Pat then pays his own personal respects to Gary Moore, on the magnificent and appropriately titled ‘Belfast Boy’. It opens with a haunting pipers’ lament and a slow-drawn cello, before exploding into a folk/blues/hard rock very much in the vein of the sound that Moore perfected both during his time in Thin Lizzy and at the height of his solo career. Drawing heavily on Moore’s own lyrics – the song very much has its roots in the likes of ‘Over The Hills’ – it romps along, with the pipes matching Pat’s own fiddle, which curls and winds around the main guitar melody, and very much captures the joy which Moore brought to so many, while at the same time retains a suitable, humble reverence to the man.


Closer ‘The Bolt’ is a joyous, raucous reel, it’s traditional countrified folk roots topped with a masterpiece of an extended solo guitar workout, which once again shows Pat’s love and respect for his heritage – and a fitting tribute (as indeed is the entire album) to his late father and the values he imbued in his middle son.


A word or two must be said about the band – drummer Paul Falloon and bassist Marty McDermott. They know they are very much second fiddle (excuse the pun) but they are extremely accomplished musicians in their own right and provide the rock-solid foundation from which Pat works his fretboard magic. And the production, by the legendary (well, he is in this part) Mudd Wallace superbly brings out the earthy, live, organic feel of the performances.


Overall, ‘Dark Emerald Highway’ is The Professor’s darkest, but at the same time, brightest album to date. It is reflection on where he has come from and a statement of where he is right now: a recollection of the difficult times which he has come through, especially recently, and a look forward to the light between the trees around the road he travels. It is the sort of album that sits as comfortably on a Saturday night or on the lazy Sunday morning that usually follows it. I’ve said it many times before, and I will say it many times again: Pat McManus plays with fire, passion and commitment in a way which many textbook players – and I include the hugely over-rated Joe Bonamassa in this category – can only dream of mastering. In fact, if ol’ JB ever considers putting down his guitar, maybe Pat might think about giving him a job carrying his empty cases…


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