Ruf [Release date 21.03.14]
This is arguably the most original and impressive blues related album since Moreland & Arbuckle ‘7 Cities’ last summer.
Denmark’s Thorbjørn Risager & The Black Tornado have cut a blues related album in the sense of it being glued together by that genre. A subtle blend of blues, soul, r&b and rock & roll infuses some heartfelt relationship songs, which are sparked by a killer band.
The Black Tornado bring fiery passion to well crafted arrangements. Most of the album sounds like the best live concert you never heard, but probably will, if they ever make it over to these shores.
The rhythm section is locked in, while the horns pump out dynamic accents, the resonant guitars chime and rock their way through some stellar melodies, and keyboard player Emil Balsgaard weaves his way in and around songs with a mellifluous approach that gives the album its warmth.
From the opening rhythmic swagger and reflective narrative of ‘If You Wanna Leave’ – complete with Thorbjørn’s mighty vocal, a pumping horn section and bv’s – to the celebratory rock & roll finish of ‘Play On’, this clearly isn’t an album that deals with self doubt.
‘Too Many Roads’ is a celebration of Risager’s brusque voice, which is a cross between Tom Waits, David Clayton-Thomas, Ray Charles and John Campbell. It’s also an album shot through with an undeniable retro feel, including the Sinatra style cover photo, the choice of the Nat King Cole favourite ‘China Gate’ and the horn led swing of the broken relationship song ‘Drowning’.
The Memphis soul of ‘Through The Tears’ and the beguiling funk of ‘Red Hot & Blue’ also illustrate the band’s willingness to experiment. It’s no surprise that they opted to self produce this album, to nail their live feel in the studio and strike a delicate balance between the past, present and future.
The dozen tracks really do sound as if they are part of a well crafted album, built on the solid foundations of subtle dynamics and a grand vision of what they wanted it to be.
There are also a few surprises, including the J.J. Cale influenced ‘Long Forgotten Track’, on which Thorbjørn’s voice hovers majestically over the arrangement. A special word too for drummer /percussionist Martin Seidelin who anchors the song and colours it with rhythmic percussion, as the band leans into the groove and Thorbjørn adds a wistful vocal.
On any other album this would be a highlight, but it also provides essential continuity, linking the riff-driven ‘Backseat Driver’ and the soulful ‘High Rolling’. The latter is a tough stop-start Stonesy style rocker, with great bv’s from Lea Thorlann and Pia Trojgaard, before it goes into the fade all too soon.
Ultimately you are never very far from that voice! The New Orleans influenced and self explanatory ‘Rich Man’ draws on Tom Waits and even Nick Cave as Risager’s voice rolls right over you with deeply felt soulful expression
It’s a voice born to dominate any piece of music, but he has real feel, soul and can swing when required.
‘Too Many Roads’ makes the most of Thorbjørn’s unique voice. Every turn of phrase drips with life experience and delicate nuances on a set of thoughtfully sequenced songs.
His style is best distilled on the cool ‘Backseat Driver’. The precise diction, nifty horns and sultry rhythms have the lyrics to match: ‘Well I see black stains all over your dress, I saw them on your body made to confess, you secret’s safe with me, you don’t spill them beans, Ill pile them on if you know what I mean?’
Of course, this might only be a rough approximate of the lyrics but it’s the magical blend of words and the music work that makes this track and the album work so well. *****
Review by Pete Feenstra
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Pete Feenstra celebrated his 300th show in October 2019. Pete heads up a five-hour blues rock marathon when “Tuesday is Bluesday” from 19:00 GMT. Listen out also for his interview-based Feature show on Sundays (20:00 GMT)
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