Jono Manson – Little Big Postman
Fade in on every struggling singer-songwriter’s fantasy:
A movie star on location in Santa Fe, N.M., happens into a local bar, where Jono Manson is working the crowd with his homegrown stash of killer tunes. Noting how Manson wields his ax like Wyatt Earp gunning down outlaws, said movie star sidles up to ask for guitar lessons.
The lessons don’t stick, but the songs sure do — especially “Almost Home”, a soulful wanderer’s rumination that dovetails with the post-apocalyptic heroics of the movie star’s latest multimillion-dollar project. One song leads to another, and soon Manson has an on-screen gig in a major motion picture for which he pens several new originals and produces the lion’s share of the Warner Bros. soundtrack. If ever there was a big break made in Hollywood, this is it.
Not. The movie star was Kevin Costner. The major motion picture was The Postman, a loss-leader of even more epic proportions than Costner’s Waterworld.
“Last I heard, the soundtrack had sold about 4,000 copies,” Manson reports from the weathered porch of his little house in an old Santa Fe compound bordered by adobe walls, a coyote fence, and the neighboring graves of the local cemetery. “If this one had been the big one, then it’d be my video you see everywhere instead of Celine Dion’s.”
The world would surely be a better place if Dion’s monolithic Titanic theme had been sunk by the sly-boots acoustic charm of Manson’s “I Miss My Radio”. (“One of the premises of the film is that there’s not a whole lot of electricity going on,” he explains.) But fans of dead-honest roots-rock twanged with country can take comfort in Manson’s debut CD for Paradigm, whose title references another, better movie and a subtext of his own life: Little Big Man.
“I’m a little guy and a lot of people don’t expect the voice I have to come out of me,” notes the compactly muscular Manson. Indeed, his fourth-grade nickname, Big Voice, resonates in the gravely baritone he wraps around the rig-rockin’ “Gone Gone Gone”, the two-step shuffle of “Little Baby” and the rueful loss masked by bravado that makes “No Strings” a classic honky-tonk ballad. “And that whole big fish/small pond equation also figured in,” he adds.
Manson’s first small pond was the New York bar-band scene of the late ’80s and early ’90s, where he helped spawn a whole school of big fish — most notably Blues Traveler, who got him a one-off deal with A&M for 1996’s Almost Home and back him up in various configurations for an annual tour of the Rockies as High Plains Drifters. But it’s the much smaller pond of Santa Fe, where he settled six years ago, that shapes the texture of Little Big Man, whose roots were planted firmly in alt.country turf by producer Eric “Roscoe” Ambel (Bottle Rockets, Blue Mountain, Mojo Nixon).
“Roscoe brought in the pedal steel and helped push it in that direction,” says Manson, who evokes the awesome beauty and high desert menace of northern New Mexico in “Madman’s Sky” and honors the “Father of fathers” and “Mother of mothers” in the soaring gospel refrains of “Some Day I Will Take My Rest”.
“For me, it’s all part of the same journey,” adds Manson, who spends more than half the year on the road and is unlikely to take his rest soon. “And this record definitely represents a move forward.”
As for the ill-fated Postman project, “It paid my rent for a good while, and put me on the map as somebody able to do this kind of work.” He pauses, then crinkles his well-worn laugh lines into a grin. “I didn’t get any bad reviews.”