Damanek - Making Shore

(CD 2023, 1.11:53, Giant Electric Pea)

The tracks:
Part 1:
  1- A Mountain Of Sky(7:15)
  2- Back2Back(5:59)
  3- Noon Day Candles(6:33)
  4- Americana(4:55)
  5- I Deep Blue (Sea Songs Pt. 1)(4:23)
  6- Reflections On Copper(5:02)
  7- Crown Of Thrones (Sea Songs Pt. 2)(6:04)
Part 2:
  8- Oculus Overture(9:07)
  9- Act I: Spot The Difference?(4:31)
10- Act II: The Corridor(4:25)
11- Act III: Passive Ghost(6:28)
12- Act IV: A Welcoming Hand(7:17)

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Making Shore is the third album by a prog collective founded in 2016 by British singer/songwriter and composer Guy Manning, in collaboration with other musicians such as Southern Empire's saxophonist Marek Arnold and keyboards player Sean Timms who appear with him here.
On Track (see review) was released in 2017 and In Flight (see review) the following year, both full of complex but always accessible all-consuming compositions reflecting places, opinions, and possibilities; and both of which received critical acclaim.
The five-year hiatus has certainly been worth the wait, Making Shore continuing this tradition, but this time, it's very much an album of two halves, the first full of socially aware songs and the second comprising a fascinating construct of a Gothic ghostly story.

Tingling Nepalese bells and a penetrating Himalayan wind lead off the uplifting A Mountain of Sky, a paean to the majesty of Mount Everest and those who seek to conquer the world's highest peak. Jazzy saxophone, Eastern motifs, floating synths and muscular drumming from Southern Empire's Brody Thomas Green lift this lovely song to ever greater heights, Manning's vocals soaring upwards. There's even a choppy little reggae section, a vocal harmony chorus and some muscular guitar from Southern Empire's Cam Blokland in there. This is an early contender for song of the year.
The keyboard introduction and stately chord progression launch Back2Back, a commentary on overpopulation and its consequences. Nick Sinclair's fretless bass underpins the airy melody. Multi-layered, its funky section and Blokland's flowing guitar make this another delight.
The Indian-style groove of Noon Day Candles is more sedate and mannered, the theme a plea for collective voices to be heard to end inequality.
Americana swings along while telling the story of life and survival out in the hard Mid-West, featuring delicious jazzy piano and saxophone solos.
The sound of waves begins the watery shuffling rhythm of In the Deep Blue, based on Manning's son going on his first scuba dive while Reflections On Copper, a touching narration on the effects of dementia that incorporates a fabulous synth groove which is reminiscent of the classic On Broadway.
Crown Of Thorns is heavier with a fantastic organ-led riff and fairground-like melody, the song being about the decimation of coral reefs, much of it due to Crown of Thorns starfish.
The second part of the album, Oculus, is where nothing is quite what it seems- lyrically at least.
Overture's frantic piano-led introduction builds up a theatrical and slightly ethereal atmosphere, Linda Pirie's lilting flute and piccolo plus Riley Nixon-Burns' melodious trumpet playing high in the mix.
References to Alice In Wonderland set the scene for the folkish Spot The Difference where Manning eloquently tells an other-worldly tale of the effects of mirrors.
Upping the pace, the melodic, rocky The Corridor features delicious vocal harmonies and terrific change of tempo halfway, introducing some choppy guitars and driving rhythm.
Passive Ghost is full of flowing synth and piano, Manning's resonant tremulous voice, which has never sounded better, staying central throughout the multi-layered, magnificent instrumentation.
Quirkier and more staccato, Arnold's multi-tracked saxophones providing texture and tone, A Welcoming Hand delivers a fitting climax to this story, the curtain being pulled back lyrically, and Manning meditating on its significance. It builds into a rousing climax, saxophones blazing, gorgeous, lush harmonies coming to the fore and a fantastic guitar solo that hits the same heights as the opening track.

Thoughtful, insightful, invigorating and life-affirming, Making Shore is a delight and triumph from start to finish, setting the bar remarkably high for the rest of 2023.

***** Alison Reijman

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