I had been pretty much impressed with the prior A Matter of Life and Death, and I must now state that One Small Step while maintaining some of the characteristics of the other solo albums, is way different in most of the essential assets.
While this is still made upon a free format musicality, not bound to Progressive Rock, Folk or Pop, it undoubtedly has connections to all those mentioned styles. These because Guy is really a songwriter, and his albums are constructed always with an eye set upon that characteristic. The tracks, though punctuated by instrumental parts, and rich ones may I add, are really more focused on the sung parts, as they develop not only the concept of the story but also play with emotions and set the feelings and even the stylings of the main course of the music. The instrumental parts mainly serve to emphasize and add profundity to those emotional pillars, but occasionally they serve otherwise (like in No Hiding Place, for instance) where they tend to separate from the rest of the track, leading the listener to more ecstatic grounds.
Overall I can clearly see Progressive fans liking this album. This because Guy is naturally inbreeded in the Prog spirit and has the attitude that the (strictly) all-prog musicians have. Yet, Guy is also pretty capable of conjuring that mindset with that of a pure (and pre-destined) songwriter like Roy Harper or Kevin Gilbert. For instance, there is a continuously preponderance of choruses, most of them pretty catchy, which deviates a bit from the Prog grounds and into more popish or folk ones.
When comparing to the prior solo album, One Small Step is much more driven by acoustic parts, some of them close to British Folk and even Country, in which the comparisons to Roy Harper may become more evident.
Guy’s singing has been many times compared to that of Ian Anderson, and let me add that there is a strong reason for that, mainly because of the tone of voice and of some vocal approaches, yet Guy clearly does not want to take advantage (or disadvantage) of that fact, as he stays more focused on the interpretation of the lyrics and their connection to the music. The resemblances come naturally and without any other objective at all, as I hear it. And curiously enough, I find his vocals on the opening track much more close to the style of Roxy Music’s very own Brian Ferry, in a strange connection, more in approach than in tone anyway.
The music in One Small Step is very eclectic and diverse, yet maintaining a strange tightness that I tend to relate to the guitar playing mostly. And while that (classical) guitar playing style is pretty much maintained throughout, it may me accompanied by piano, orchestration (by ways of keyboard, but very well done), sax or fiddle which makes the music as a whole to walk through very apart landscapes while cruising on a single sonic highway (this is the image I get, really).
Comparing it with other successful “songwriters”, I would say that Guy is more eclectic than most of them. If less sarcastic and less aggressive than Kevin Gilbert, he is more adventurous than (solo) Ian Anderson and less Folksy (more Rock minded) than him or Roy Harper.
A word also about the booklet’s artwork is also in need here, as the sort of early Marillionesque style has been rediscovered and successfully used, with each part of each drawing having a connection with the lyrical content of the album. The resulting booklet enriches the album as a whole experience, so that makes the artwork worthy of praise here, and makes having the original CD a whole lot better (imo it is always, but especially in cases such as this).
Anyway, this may well be the best solo effort from Guy Manning so far, and note that I like his other solo albums, and the big buzz that has been going on in Prog sites and forums about One Small Step seems to me as with total reason to exist. This to conclude that the new Guy Manning’s is a cohesive, solid and totally enjoyable piece of art. In resume: a Winner!