Mike Mangione Imparts His Wisdom On Us With Blood & Water

Seven albums into his career, Mike Mangione is showing no signs of creative decline; quite the opposite, in fact. The former Anchorman actor’s latest album touches on broader topics like life and love while offering his sharp commentary with a poetic touch on all the little details and each song holds a valuable lesson. And while each lyric reflects a certain amount of careful consideration, he doesn’t neglect to make this a well-mixed project. In fact, the production is so subtly brilliant that you never think about it. All you’re left to think about while listening is how the music and the lyrics make you feel.

Mangione starts things off with “Anastasia,” a song about longing for the love of someone you took for granted. He takes a confessional tone throughout, admitting his faults and shifting his focus to keeping his family together, never losing sight of what matters, which is a constant through all eleven tracks. He sort of expands on the opening cut in “The Turnabout,” where he discusses a sense of internal emptiness in the absence of his partner. He reflects on his childhood and laments his present lonely condition. In the third verse, he admits to his faults and promises to do better. It seems likely that his self-reflection has given him the time and space to internalize some important life lessons which he makes sure to share with us on the rest of the album.

“Against the Grain” turns the tempo up a little bit with a driving blues guitar riff and lyrics that call on all of us to resist the efforts of the world to deny us of our right to self-actualization. He almost takes the role of a general leading his troops into battle reminding us that the fight will be tough but the results are worth the hardships along the way. It’s the kind of song that makes you want to quit your stupid job and do the things that genuinely fulfill you. He turns the heat up even more on “Love Ain’t No Easy Thing” with a heavy organ that takes us into a solo before we even hear him sing. Then when he does sing, he belts out with passion in every word that the kind of love he wants comes with obstacles and hardships but that those things can only be the product of a genuine love. If his love doesn’t come with all of the difficult things that bring them closer together, he doesn’t want it and he stands firm in this with “Giving Up On You.” Contrary to the title, he proclaims that he isn’t giving up on the love he has for someone even in the face of harsh adversity.

He begins the second half of the album on the topic of individuality. His perspective is one that’s pretty common in the upper Midwest and it essentially holds that everyone goes through life and no one person’s struggles are unique enough to warrant their entitlement to the world’s pity. Cold as this may sound, it’s actually a message of comfort because we aren’t experiencing the world alone so the best we can do is to work with the cards we’re dealt. “Better Days,” which comes a couple songs later, expands a little bit on this narrative, legitimizing the struggles of individuals and reminding us all that our best days are ahead of us and will reward us plentifully if we hang on and don’t give up. “Spirit Awake” is the best possible closer for the album and summarizes, rather beautifully, the lessons in each song prior to it. The opening verse catches the listener’s attention with the claim that he’s going to give us the key to life and he doesn’t exactly disappoint. But for the sake of not spoiling things you’ll just have to listen for yourself to learn the key to life.

It’s a lyrically dense album with tons to unravel but it’s more than worth it to do so. A lot of the music is bluegrass-inspired and there are tracks that are heavily informed by the likes of Blues Traveler, making for an easy listen while you mull over what Mangione means when he says things like “Your beauty will steady the promise they shake, the world is drawn to a spirit awake.” So do yourself a favor if you’re a fan of good music with lyrics that leave you with lots to think about and give Blood & Water by Mike Mangione a listen. Maybe even listen again in case you missed something on your first spin.

Reviewed by Bret O’zee

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