This second album from talented Melbourne songwriter, Bernie Manning, shows a development from the merely entertaining towards the stance of the protest singer. This is not background music, not music to dance to or to play softly during dinner or housework. It is listening music.
Most of the vocals are performed by Jeff Burstin, whom you will know from iconic Australian band Jo Jo Zep and the Falcons. Mr Burstin's deep, sinister, angst-ridden tones bring a sharp edge to the new material, some of which (Nature, Occupy Australia, The Other Side of the Law) has crossed over into the Protest Song Proper, a development which pleased me mightily, and I hope to see more of it. God knows our country needs protest singers.
Manning's lyrics are a delight, informed by a deep sympathy with the natural world and the plight of the other. His empathy brings a reality to the songs that lifts them out of the realm of the merely descriptive and into the experiential. The few tracks where he performs himself are presented as spoken poems rather than songs, and the musical backing well supports this, providing a textured, atmospheric support to the material.
A special treat for those who were already fans of Volume One is provided in the last two tracks, where Manning, in a pair of short, witty monograms, brings us Men's Secret Fears. As a humourist myself, these were a particular delight to me, and had me laughing out loud at several points. Again, Manning's warm, gentle humour prevents these tracks from sinking into the merely bitchy, eliciting our sympathy even as we laugh.