It can be a bad sign when your story threatens to be more interesting than your album, but Kieran McManus is probably safe. As he sets up a CD-release show to raise funds for "a few months" of Himalayan trekking before spending "a while" in Thailand, with cello and laptop/recording gear in tow, you can rest easy knowing the disc he'll sell you in exchange for a donation is more than just a future coaster. An interesting mix of bluegrass, Celtic, and classical, McManus succeeds in raising interest in the cello as a flexible instrument (it's actually been kind of hot lately, making appearances on discs by the Cambiata, Spencer and the School Spirit Mafia, and plenty more), while similarly raising interest in just what, exactly, will be on his hard drive when he returns from the trip.
Not that he's just a cellist. On the eight-song, mostly instrumental Yellow Moon over Portland he plays piano, banjo, bass, percussion, and guitar, too, and while there is that new-agey bent you might expect from someone who's about to go where the winds take him, there's some pretty great playing, too.
The cello lead on "Funky Friday Night" is as lyrical as any vocalist. The piano and cello on the title track dance a particularly delicate waltz (raise your hand if you love the Chariots of Fire theme). The guitar in the finish of "The Artist" is appropriately tortured.
Nice, too, are the hands-off production values. You can often hear foot-tapping, sometimes conversation in the background, plenty of creaks and groans and squeaks. This kind of record can often have too much glow and shine, but it's sort of amazing how polished it sounds anyway.
On "Leaving," the brief final track, and one of two songs that feature vocalist Geep Amara, we're left with the sentiment that "it's time to quit my job as a thinking man" (McManus's day job involves technical consulting) and that "I want to leave peacefully," but I think he's going out with, if not a bang, at least a loud pop.
Sam Pfeifle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
YELLOW MOON OVER PORTLAND | Released by Kieran McManus | at Acoustic Artisans, in Portland | Sept 25 |www.kieranmcmanus.com