Manuel & The Music Of The Mountains
Blue Waters






Blue Waters is the sixth album of the British longterm collaboration between songwriter Geoff Love (1917–1991) and producer Norman Newell (1919–2004) under the self-explanatory and potentially exotic moniker called Manuel And The Music Of The Mountains, released in 1966 on Columbia Records. In every related review, I have to mention my deep affection for Love’s and Newell’s 70’s Afro/Funk/Exotica combo called Mandingo which truly transferred what little was left of the Exotica genre to the 70’s. The music of their Manuel project could not be farther away from the African steppes and tribal adventures, for here, everything is inferior to the supremacy of multitudinous stringed instruments such as violins, harps, balalaikas and many more devices. Blue Waters continues the Easy Listening path with the help of an orchestra full of session musicians who play the usual amount of 12 compositions, with three of them being credited to the imagination of Geoff Love himself.


Those who know the Manuel project due to the auspiciously titled Exotica (1965) and shy away from the hyper-maudlin kitsch ever since can easily skip this album as well, although two or three arrangements are genuinely great and exceptional in the given context, one of them being a rendition of an Exotica classic. Tropical percussion layers keep a low profile, Blue Waters is keener on a bird’s eye view onto beach sceneries or rain forests which are then exchanged by figurative mountain ranges. Soaked in romance, draped in love and affection, Blue Waters is, as previously hinted, no complete misstep. In the hope of wrenching exoticism out of its rhizomes, I visit the titular waters with a skeptically raised brow.


Quizas, Quizas, Quizas, one knows these vague notions well. Osvaldo Farrés’ classic is taken into the very mountainous heights Geoff Love promises with his project. Sanguine strings of the lamenting kind mix with Horror movie-like pizzicato strings, clicking castanets and acoustic guitar aortas before the chorus turns the crepuscular aura into a short sun-dappled phase. Manuel’s version lures with its uptempo structure and the densely layered percussion thicket. The tune itself might be a tad too doleful for many listeners, but the eclecticism and tempo lessen this aura. An actually great starting point. Max Steiner’s and Mack David’s world-famous Tara’s Theme off Gone With The Wind meshes the bucolic ameliorations of the high mountain ranges with lachrymose string washes, a laid-back galloping beat and a coruscating harp glissando of the dreamiest kind. The string washes feel complete and fully fleshed, and it highly depends on the listener whether he or she admires the sunset-red acoustic guitar schmaltz in-between these auroral coils or rather passes on the presented chintziness.


The following The Man Who Loves You Well is something akin to a treat, for it is envisioned by Geoff Love himself. And indeed, it succeeds, at least partially so. The string walls finally reach a Space-Age ethereality with otherworldly rising sweeps that tower adamantly above their mellow brethren. A comparably quiet choir is admixed and decreases the solemnity of this stringscape quite a bit, but all in all, this tune, while not being exotic at all, inherits the best bits of the Space-Age tradition and moulds it into a romantic phantasmagoria. Margarita Lecuona’s Exotica gold standard Tabu then sucks the saturation out of the color range and presents itself in a heavily shady hue. Notwithstanding the dun colors, this is hands down the best piece of side A, for it is supercharged with mellifluous marimba blebs and a wondrous alto flute playing the main melody. A magnitude of strings accentuates the devotion and potential mourning state. Pumping timpani rev up the fulminant impetus further. It is almost unbelievable that this orchestration is at home in the the same album as all the other tracks. It is tastefully delivered, lives up to Señora Lecuona’s original vision and is clearly exotic.


Whereas Antonio Vivaldi’s Autumn In Venice oscillates between elysian space strings and rose-tinted romanticism in the shape of acoustic guitars and cautious bongo blebs, Geoff Love’s own Serenata draws from melodrama and grandiloquence, with clicking castanets, blood-tinted string spirals and more genteel, eminently pointillistic harp vesicles coalescing into an uptempo concoction of devotion and lust.


Side B opens with Maurice Jarre’s Somewhere My Love, a brutish hybrid of Baroque shadiness and super-benign structures of sugar-sweet and glowing strings. The humming choir is the final nail in the coffin caused by a sugar shock. Blue Waters, the third and final tune by Manuel aka Geoff Love, boosts the presence of the bongos, a welcome change of formula, but otherwise paints the typical Riviera-esque Rimini-accentuated sunscape of aqueous harps and the picturesque wideness as delivered by the strings. Especially the chorus section features a magnanimous amount of them. It is still kitsch, I’m afraid. El Cumbanchero by Rafael Hernández is a contrastive antipode to the clichéd intrinsic scheme. Like a whirling dervish, the string helixes float downwards, Latin piano droplets dance with their harp counterparts and a thunderous choir lamento interpolates the sheer force of this tune. A grinding maelstrom, totally over the top, but tasteful!


Bob McDill’s Amanda meanwhile aurally paints a transcendental romance via overwhelmingly wraithlike string concoctions plus an unfortunate amount of overly sweet harp globs, and Camillo Bargoni’s Autumn Concerto continues this trend almost mercilessly due to its archetypical explication of Italian stereotypes such as a continuous switch between embracing and melancholic-contemplative parts. The finale is then embodied by Strangers In The Night by the songwriting trio of Bert Kaempfert, Charlie Singleton and Eddie Snyder. The warped-vivacious string capsules are top-notch, but the doo-dooing choir and the lead balalaika diminish the magic of the backdrop. As oddly sunny (!) and embracing this fitting conclusion is, the album does not end one moment too soon; syrup oozes out of the speakers, and if you have listened to this album via headphones, you've maneuvered yourself into a big problem now.


Blue Waters is better than most of Manuel’s material, but only slightly so. Exotica fans who do not feel guilty of succumbing to sweetness and kitsch are perfectly served by this LP. The material may be strikingly Occidental and decidedly less Polynesian or paradisal in general, but emanates greatly texturized orchestra strings which are oftentimes surprisingly enchanting. Their effect is unfortunately diminished by lackluster pizzicato melodies in front of their charming physiognomy, but again, there are listeners who can cope with this style and file it away under semi-devastating. The supreme highlight has to be the rendition of Margarita Lecuona’s Tabu, and I for one am very surprised about this fact; Tabu is one of the darker, more nocturnal Exotica pieces that made it into the canon, so I am quite a bit wary about the countless interpretations, regardless of the artist or year of release.


Nothing can beat Les Baxter’s galactosamine-charged version off his opus Caribbean Moonlight (1955), but Geoff Love and fellows come quite close. Interestingly enough, it is the only version that features a Pagan alto flute, so the exotic factor only grows. Besides this intimate setting, the strings reign. Love’s own The Man Who Loves You Well is anything but silky, and let me not forget El Cumbanchero whose grandiloquence could have gone awfully wrong, but is astonishingly effective, with the chanting choir augmenting the duskiness rather than destroying its vibrance. Since the album is readily available on iTunes and Amazon MP3, the Exotica connoisseur should fight his or her way through the string thicket in order to reach the hidden diamonds. 


Exotica Review 254: Manuel And The Music Of The Mountains – Blue Waters (1966). Originally published on Aug. 31, 2013 at