Wed Jul 11 2007
Time Out Ratings<strong>Rating: </strong>5/5
This three-CD set perfectly embodies a certain American indie aesthetic from the late ’80s and early ’90s; in a way it’s an ideal companion to Michael Azerrad’s Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground 1981–1991, except in terms of rep, Barbara Manning never reached a tenth of the rock royalty Azerrad wrote about. And yet for a few years, she was among America’s finest singer-songwriters. Never heard of her? No wonder: She also was completely ill-suited to the commercial game.
The material here includes Manning’s first two solo releases, 1988’s Lately I Keep Scissors and 1991’s One Perfect Green Blanket, along with a trove of previously unreleased demos and live tracks dating back to 1986. What’s most striking throughout is how simple it all is. Manning’s songs tended to hover around the three-minute mark and featured economical arrangements; the lyrics were direct, unadorned. As a performer, she downplayed almost everything. Even on a rocking song like “Straw Man,” she remained collected. This approach left a particularly deep impression on the sparer tracks, though: Manning may sing of sending herself a “Sympathy Wreath,” but she does it with a straightforward restraint that never, ever spills into self-pity. Today, in a world where everybody’s secrets are exposed on the Internet and people line up for new phones, Manning’s reserved dignity makes an even stronger statement than it did almost 20 years ago.