Saturday, December 8, 2012

The Jellyfish Family Tree Part 6: Cookin' With Beck and Mraz

Because Brendan Benson was never actually in Jellyfish, I set a somewhat daunting precedent when I included him in this series. Jellyfish’s members have contributed their talents to numerous projects, and to take them all into account might stretch this project on almost indefinitely. Although I have often used the presence of Jellyfish members to guide my listening choices, there are many albums that they have co-written or played on that I simply have not heard.  There are, however, some that have become favorites.

In the late 90s, Jellyfish and Imperial Drag keyboardist Roger Joseph Manning was a studio contributor on Beck’s Mutations, and was also a member of the performing band during the tour to support the album. Mutations is the release in which Beck revealed just what a chameleon he is. For artists like David Bowie, Madonna, and Prince, reinvention was a matter of course. Beck’s identity shifts were never quite as dramatic, but they were no less jarring. After the ramshackle hobo pop of Mellow Gold and the genre-bending whiteboy funk of Odelay, Mutations, a relatively atmospheric and somber offering, was a bit of a surprise.

When Mutations came out, I was already a fan of Beck. When I discovered that Manning made significant keyboard contributions to the album, however, it reframed the entire listening experience. By this point in his career, his experiments with The Moog Cookbook, a series of tongue-in-cheek parodies of 70s keyboard albums, solidified his status as the go-to torchbearer for classic keyboard sounds. Mutations has a somewhat retro feel to it, and undoubtedly Manning contributed greatly to this sound.

I did not follow the Moog Cookbook, but I did get into one of Manning's analog keyboard experiments.  In 2000, he, along with collaborator Brian Reitzell, released Logan's Sanctuary, a soundtrack to an imaginary sequel to the 1976 film Logan's Run.  I was particularly interested in this release because it featured a couple of collaborations with Jason Falkner that were pretty good, but overall its stylistic relationship with Jellyfish was tenuous at best.  

Metropia by Logan's Sanctuary on Grooveshark

Despite his experimental side, Manning was always able to keep one foot in the pop realm.  Several years later, I became a fan of Jason Mraz's sophomore release, Mr. A-Z.  This album came to have special meaning during the Carrollton Period.  It will one day deserve its own posting, but I have to mention it here because I remember quite clearly being inexorably drawn to the funky analog bass sounds in Geek in the Pink.  I was hardly surprised when the liner notes revealed that Manning contributed keyboards to the track.

Again, Manning's resume has done nothing but grow rhizomatically since his days in Jellyfish - far beyond my ability to keep up.  Although he has played keyboards on numerous albums with a variety of artists, he remains a transparent contributor that, paradoxically, always lets his unique character shine through.  Undoubtedly, there will be fans who implore me to include their overlooked favorites, and I hope they will. Most likely, these suggestions will make their way into rotation in the near future.

To review the previous post in this series, hit me up here.
To jump to the next one, click here.

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