With a title like Strictly Whatever, you’d think that the musicians would be phoning in their performances, or otherwise indicating that they don’t care about the music. Not so with Harry Manx and Kevin Breit! Though their third duo album (and their second for Stony Plain Records) is titled Strictly Whatever, it is as passionate and entertaining as their other recorded works.
In some ways, Strictly Whatever is a continuation of their unique musical style, with great harmony vocals, Breit’s fine playing on the guitar and other assorted instruments, and Manx’s Indian-blues fusion and philosophical lyrics (not to mention Art Avalos’ effective percussion). Yet, there are enough differences between this and their previous albums to justify hearing this effort. A lot of the songs are less overtly blues-esque and incorporate influences from other roots genres, including country and even Hawaiian music on “Little Ukelele”. In the long run, this might mean that the record will appeal to a wider audience and help these fine musicians gain more recognition for their considerable talents. Also notable is Manx’s use of the baritone guitar on many of the tracks, which gives the songs a distinctive dark flavor. Interestingly, the Indian flavor characteristic of Manx’s music is also toned down, with his signature instrument, the mohan veena, appearing on only one song.
The album commences with a slower tune entitled “Sunny”, whose minor key and introspective sound contrast nicely with the positive lyrics. Other highlights include “Looking For a Brand New World” and “Dance with Delilah”, two up-tempo feel-good songs with some interesting wah-wah guitar on the former and baritone guitar on the latter; both would make excellent theme music for the summer season! Speaking of summer, “Hippy Trippy” is a fun surf-style song, with Breit’s buzzing electric sitar handling the melody and solos (surf sitar!). “Note To Self” is an even trippier, atmospheric instrumental piece, functioning as an effective prelude to the haunting “Do Not Stand At My Grave And Weep”. There is some intriguing John Schofield-esque guitar soloing on “Looking For a Plan” (presumably by Breit), which liven up an otherwise average song. For fans of classic blues, the cover of John Lee Hooker’s “Mr. Lucky” is probably the most straight-ahead blues performance here, with some fine weaving guitars and Manx’s unique vocals.
Being a fan of the blues and the duo’s previous albums, I wasn’t sure if I would enjoy the broader influences displayed on this new album. I was expecting my reaction to be strictly whatever. But I was wrong. This is a great album that flows nicely from start to finish, and is a worthy addition to Manx and Breit’s discography!