MUDDY MANNINEN – River Flows

Running Moose 2020

Humble guitar hero and his coterie of kindred spirits go for the pulsing jugular and the stylistic estuary.

MUDDY MANNINEN –
River Flows

“Ice melting, rivers flow”: here’s a line from “Being One” – one of the songs Jyrki Manninen co-wrote for his last album with WISHBONE ASH – which best summarizes the shift from the Finnish artist’s solo debut to his sophomore effort, and the shift from plural impression of the veteran’s creative force to a singular stance, too. Yet while solitude may seem to be oozing out of Muddy’s second record’s title track, the instrumental not only serves as its gloriously dramatic finale but also emerges out of the exquisite “River” – so passionately voiced by Melanie Denard to stress that this album is all about the groove and the tone: hence another shift – from "Long Player"‘s monochrome cover to a new set’s colorful artwork. The shift reflecting the music inside.

The groove can be simple – that’s why Simon Kirke, who always plays for the song, is a perfect driver for opener “Make Believe” where riffs are infectious – but the tone feels rich throughout, in terms of both sound and sentiment, as Manninen marries bluesy vibe to rock ‘n’ roll uplift and just the right amount of fingers-wrought filigree. There’s no highbrow philosophy now, so “Hey You” doesn’t beat around the bush when Kev Moore’s sarcastic croak addresses social inertia and Muddy’s lap steel gets sprinkled with funky licks for enhanced grittiness of the tuneful drift, yet the wah-wah-washed strings become sparse once the same singer lays down the record’s primal lyrical cut, the velveteen “Daytona Beach” – a breezy and humid ballad which should set the mood for the more traditional moves.

As a result, the slow folk song “Take These Blues From Me” and swampy mid-tempo stomper “(Don’t Let Them Put The) Hoochie On You” balance each other in quite an elegant manner, the former seeing Manninen whip up harmonies as a guitarist and a vocalist, before Gregg Sutton reclaims “Last One To Know” from Joe Cocker and lets Muddy pour twangy magic over this communal singalong. Still, it’s Jyrki that weaves the wordless eloquence into many layers of “The Wedge” to intersperse the piece’s mighty punch with a tender strum of a fusion stripe, and infuses the Denard-delivered “Money” with a tightly coiled humor. Such variety will disorient some listeners at first, but eventually the colors kick in and rivers start to flow and satisfy one’s soul on an album which has to lead to a lot of follow-ups.

****4/5

October 18, 2020

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