Picks and Pans Review: Roger Manning

updated 05/15/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/15/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Roger Manning

The spirit of the young Bob Dylan lives on, though it doesn't necessarily make sense to go back to the original source to find it. Try instead listening to this debut album by the witty political songwriter Roger Manning. In a futile (and humorous) attempt to avoid being called a folkie, Manning stuck the word "blues" into every title on the album; in "The Pearly Blues," he even sings "This is not a folk song." Sorry, Rog, it still sounds like folk music, not that you should exactly take that as an insult.

With a voice as nasal and unrefined as that of the young Dylan, Manning sings accompanied primarily by his own acoustic guitar, strumming with such speed and force that it sounds as if he's about to tear his arm off. As far as his lyrics go, he shows a topicality no doubt influenced by the fact that he gave his first public performances a few years ago on New York City subway platforms. In the characteristically ironic "The Lefty Rhetoric Blues," he cleverly twists a conservative train of thought to his own benefit: "Lefty folk-singer rhetoric has such a boring ring/They make me sick/They oversimplify everything... but, then on the other hand, they were right about Vietnam." In "The #17 Blues," Manning tells a wry love story: "I was half kidding when I said, 'Marry me or die.'/'Which half?' she asked."

Because he rarely loses his sense of humor, Manning avoids getting preachy, even when he sounds off on such predictable topics as nuclear-waste pollution or the plight of the poor. "People work hard and end up with nothing," he sings in "The Pearly Blues." "I ain't got nothing either, but, at least I didn't work hard for it." Those who think that protesting troubadours don't exist in George Bush's America can prepare to sing a new tune. (SST)

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