Concert Monkey, Belgium – Review

BLACK PEARL REVIEW – Walter Vanheuckelom / Concert Monkey (Belgium)
John Mitchell

Black Pearl is a brand new contemporary rock/blues project featuring London-based Detroit singer/guitarist Marcus Malone, former Wishbone Ash guitarist and arranger Muddy Manninen and songwriter Pete Feenstra. Originally conceived as a possible songwriting project between Muddy and Pete, Marcus Malone soon came on board to add his unique vocal phrasing to a project that spans rock, blues, Americana and Latino.

Born in Helsinki and living in the UK, Muddy Manninen was the songwriter and guitarist for Wishbone Ash for four albums over thirteen years. He wrote much of their album ‘Blue Horizon’, which has been widely regarded as their best for years. He also enjoyed a prolific career in Europe with bands such as Gringos Locos with whom he recorded the album ‘Punch Drunk’.

Muddy became a solo artist in 2017, recording two albums while continuing to work with saxophonist Patsy Gamble. American Marcus Malone was born in Detroit. He was initially coveted by Motown records, where he worked on demos with some of the biggest names in the industry, before being moved to LA by Ike Turner’s management team and signed to United Artists Records. The result was the all star hard rock album ‘Marcus’, which is still on the catalog today and was re-released in December 2016 by Rock Candy Records.

He hung out with the MC5, opening for Bob Seger and Iggy Pop, but it was his passion for rocking blues that led him to Europe. He quickly made an impression opening for BB King at the Albert Hall and has already recorded seven solo albums. Marcus is currently working with Innes Sibun, formerly Robert Plant’s guitarist and well-known blues rock solo artist.

Together they made the beautiful album ‘Come Together’ in 2020. Pete Feenstra is an award-winning blues promoter, blues-rock DJ and songwriter. He wrote songs for Blue Commotion, Croatian Ivana Gallic, Voodoo Ramble, Boris Zamba (European Blues Challenge winner) The Sharpeez, Marcus Flynn (Beyonce/Mike & The Mechanics) and Zed Mitchell, with whom he topped the German Roots rock charts. .

The Covid 19 pandemic and the associated lockdowns have put a real curse on the music industry. Performances fell away and so did a lot of income. For some creatives, the pandemic opened a gateway to new collaborations. Black Pearl is a good example of this. An American, a Dutchman and a Finn currently living in London, UK got together and the result was released on April 22 with their debut album ‘Black Pearl’, featuring eleven original songs written by Manninen, Malone and Feenstra. The album opens with the languidly grooving mid-tempo rocker ‘Angel Town’, in which Marcus Malone does not paint a nice picture of life in Los Angeles with his melancholy voice.

Muddy Manninen provides the beating heart of ‘Angel Town’ with his heavy bass line. With a beautiful slide solo and a very handsome WahWah driven solo, Muddy shines on his six string. There are some Stones influences in the midtempo rocker ‘Cheap Perfume’, a story about nightlife, with its adventures and lots of booze. Malone’s voice is made to sing these kinds of songs. Tom Wilkes determines the rhythm with tight percussion and Muddy Manninen once again shows his class on the guitar. Handsome number.
Marcus Malone sings about his complicated love life with Ruthie, Rachel, Susie, not to mention Angeline in ‘Delivery Man’. It’s Southern Americana with a lot of Little Feat influences. Muddy lets the bottleneck slide over the strings on the neck of his sixstring with great feeling and Moz Gamble enriches the sound with wonderful keyboard work on the piano. It comes as no surprise that the flowing and soulful love song ‘Price Of Love’ was chosen as the first single. It is a melodic radio-friendly song, which is again sung with great feeling by Marcus Malone.

Muddy knows how to give the song the perfect guitar fillings again. Marcus Malone sings about his luxury girl who likes to enjoy life and drive around in luxury cars in ‘Luxury Girls’. In this retro rocker, Muddy combines several layers of guitar. Just like in ‘Cheap Perfume’ we also hear Stones influences here. It gets funky with ‘Mexican Romance’, in which Muddy Manninen shines again with his funky guitar work. With Mark Perry on Hammond and Moz Gamble on clavinet, the keys are very present in this funky rocker. Towards the end, Marcus Malone starts rapping instead of singing. Muddy accompanies him with beautiful Wah Wah sent strings. Superb outro.

The midtempo rocker ‘Moment Of Regret’ emanates a lot of menace, which is sung with great passion by Marcus Malone. The pounding bass line of Roger Inniss and the Wah Wah-driven guitar work of Muddy Manninen enhance the threatening atmosphere. ‘Natural Light’ is a heavily grooving midtempo blues rocker. With energetic and tight percussion Dom Metz provides a handsome drum beat and Muddy Manninen shines again with magnificent strings on his six string.

‘Natural Life’ is one of the better songs on the album for me. ‘Handmade Pearl’ is a languid, relaxed song that gently ripples along. Muddy provides delicious guitar fillings throughout the song. Black Pearl closes with the dreamy prog song ‘With My Baby By My Side’, in which we can once again enjoy the Wah Wah driven guitar work of Muddy. Black Pearl immediately delivers their name tag with their self-titled debut album. The beautiful lyrics of Pete Feenstra are of course given a quality injection due to the beautiful voice of Marcus Malone and the excellent guitar work of Muddy Manninen. (7.5/10)

Walter Vanheuckelom

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