MAN Undrugged (Point)

Often described as the Welsh Grateful Dead, this almost unplugged release, that apparently took five years and two line-ups to assemble, sounds satisfyingly similar to that band at their storytelling finest, circa "Workingman's Dead" and "American Beauty". Is there something inherently pseudy about a rabble of Merthyr boys attempting to summon up the spirit of the rolling American plains? Surely not when the results are as enjoyable as "Undrugged". Dig under guitarist Deke Leonard's predictable but amusing Howard Marksian pro-recreational smoking sleevenote and this album positively brims with distant echoes of Americana. The songs divide almost equally into selections from the band's back catalogue ("Scotch Corner", "Manillo", "Day And Night"), new compositions and carefully chosen covers. "Scotch Corner" barrels along very pleasantly, whilst "I Always Thought The Walrus Was Protected" makes it on account of its undecodable near-prog whimsy. "Asylum" chugs along like distant kin to Bo Diddley's "Mona", whilst there's more than the expected touch of Sun Session about "Trying To Get To You". Their version of "Georgia In My Mind" arrived in my record collection on the same day as Van Morrison's, and if it lacks the Irishman's teasing vocal jousting it certainly rocks slowly, in a dusky evening backporch way, demonstrating just how different two equally fine interpretations of the same song can sound. Highlight of the CD is undoubtedly their cover of The Beach Boys' "Sail On Sailor": a great song, lovingly performed, and sometimes that's all it takes.

"Undrugged" is an unpretentious and enjoyable album full of fine originals and interesting covers. It might not be the ideal introduction to the band, but as a first listen it does no harm at all.