Muddy Manninen 2017
Uncoupled from acclaimed twin-barrel unit, venerable six-string-slinger accomplishes a solo mission – with great gusto and a posse of guests.
Ain’t no prize for guessing what Jyrki Manninen’s chosen genre is, even though his stylistic range has always been much wider than the blues: that’s why the Finnish musician was a perfect fit for WISHBONE ASH for more than a decade, albeit his contribution to their latter-day canon on the likes of "Blue Horizon" didn’t tap into the Delta as often as Muddy might want to. As a result, the axeman left the band to strike on his own, on the verge of reaching the age of three scores, and this record, sounding so effortless, reflects the artist’s creative determination on an array of originals and a single borrowed tune.
There’s a perfect logic in the choice of a song to cover and a singer to serve it best in Manninen’s reading of BREAD’s “Guitar Man” as his vulnerable vocals reveal the sincerity behind “Long Player” – but Muddy’s friends help him focus on packing a punch out of robust chops. Riding a seductive squeal and deliciously dirty, funky riff, with Jenny Darren’s defiant, feisty delivery to the fore, opener “Bastard” is bound to make the listener prick their ears and get carried away with the multilayered flow as the main man’s nimble fingers peel flurries of notes off the fretboard before the master’s foot directs the wah-wah dizziness towards ultimate delight. Words aren’t necessary to reach it, as a few instrumental pieces suggest. “Dickies” may seem sleek, yet the number’s tight groove is a perfect vehicle for Manninen to demonstrate a lighter aspect of his approach and let transparent fusion seep in to bring brass-oiled soul licks to the table and shuffle ’em around for “Cheese Rolling” where guitars groan and swing in a Muscle Shoals manner, while the fiddle-abetted, fluid “Jammin’ With Shuggie” and the lucid twang of “Lil’ Rosie” – where Manninen’s strings left alone with Dave Hill’s unhurried drums – feel utterly romantic, in a retro sort of way.
Still, when words are there, the drift gets intense, and even the velvet reverie of “Another Day” – shaped in part by Patsy Gamble’s pipes – has patinated adventure in its heart. Voiced with valiant vibrancy by its co-writer Gregg Sutton, “Danger Zone” is a pop-tinged confectionary – infectiously bittersweet and mentally sticky – while the Ian Harris-sung “Not Even A Shadow” is slowly unfolding into a captivating epitome of the artist’s lyrical acceptance of life’s reality. And what’s not to love about such existence, if soft intonations of Muddy’s daughter Rosita and Manninen’s filigree take the psychedelic edge off “Price To Pay” whose harmonic layer enhances the cut’s philosophy? So the grace and drama that fill “The Jester” can’t limit its flood of blues, and, spiced up by Hughie Flint’s percussion, “Swan Song” – elevated by Kev Moore’s gentle grip on folk – will only sooth this album’s fire. Long overdue, the player’s first solo offering is truly riveting.