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    Something borrowed, something new

    Mannix draws on the music of four decades to make song-oriented roots rock that marries garage-band energy with modern pop know-how.


    "Bored yet?" Joe Mannix asks the not-bored-yet crowd at Luna Lounge, and he mock-complains: "Guitars, guitars, guitars!"

    Yes, there are guitars, guitars, guitars — jangly Byrds-style guitars, fuzzed-up Boston-style guitars, plain old major-chord Marshall Crenshaw-type guitars, topped with crackling country-rock leads. But there's something else: This group has distilled a little bit of garage-band energy and funneled it through a pop sensibility to deliver a potent blend of song-oriented roots rock with sometimes-surprising lyrics by Mannix and winning harmonies by drummer Chris Peck. Non-guitar-junkies, fear not.

    Joe Mannix (vocals, guitar)
    Chris Peck (drums, vocals)
    Toby Graham (bass)
    Todd LeCuyer (lead guitar).

    Related links: Official site
    Available from

     White Flag
    Highway Lines   RA
    How Far You Fell   RA
    No Longer Angry   RA
    Sweet Sevillian Song   RA
    © 1999 Mannix. Used by permission.
    Singer — songwriter — guitarist Joe Mannix comes to his current self-titled band by way of the power-pop outfit Oral Groove. "We were doing really well," he recalls, but adds: "I guess we never made it to the next level. It was a power-pop band, and I guess that's why I went off and did [the CD] 'Pretty Strange.' I was sick of the format."

    "Pretty Strange," released earlier this year, will be followed in spring of 2000 by "My Life and Times with Geraldine," which is being produced by Ben Folds Five producer Caleb Southern. The two collections showcase Mannix's songwriting range, which draws on the music of four decades but often finds inspiration in uncommon subjects. On the standard side, there's "Highway Lines" from the forthcoming CD, a classic, gritty road song built on big guitar riffs (one of which is what made me think of Boston) and featuring all-American lyrics like:

    Hittin' 95 and feelin' half-alive
    but I have to get things straight again,
    My engine's crying and my tranny she is dying
    and the radio is my only friend.
    Passing Delaware, on to North Philadelphia,
    Lord it all looks the same to me.
    Picked up the pace and left D.C. without a trace
    and hoping no one is on to me.
    Highway lines — gonna get me back home to you.
    Highway lines — gonna have to get me through . . . tonight.

    On the more idiosyncratic side, there are songs like "How Far You Fell" , a neo-rockabilly number that speculates about, of all things, whether selected despots in history understood what they had become as they faced the end all alone.

    Held up in the bunker, cyanide for the last of your friends.
    Russians at your doorstep,
    No apologies, you make no amends.
    In your last gasp of breath, you search her eyes for love
    But none can be found.
    And you never knew how far you fell
    Until your lonely self hit the ground.

    Mannix says he would have been surprised a few years ago to know what his direction would be today, not only in music but in life. Coming back to New York after college seven years ago, he worked as a branch manager for an import-export company, but he ditched that job when he left Oral Groove.

    "At that time, it was sort of an epiphany — I had to quit the band and leave my job," he says. And he admits that the musician's life is tougher than ever — especially with some clubs that force bands essentially to play for free — but he has no regrets. "This is what I want to do, and it's really the only thing that makes me happy."

    DECEMBER 19, 1999

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