Album review: THORBJØRN RISAGER & THE BLACK TORNADO – Songs From The Road


Ruf [Release date 25.09.15]

If ever there was ever a case to be made for a European blues band emulating or surpassing their American counterparts, then you need look no further than Denmark’s Thorbjørn Risager & The Black Tornado.

‘Songs From The Road’ is soulful blues par excellence. From the moment Thorbjørn hits the mic and fills the room with his gravely voice you know you are in the presence of a great singer with a kick ass band.

No matter that he isn’t the most charismatic of front men and that he occasionally looks as if he’s singing from the throat rather than the pit of his stomach, his distinctive gravely voice and highly original songs are a cut above anything else out there at the moment.

The material is as diverse as it is original. The melange of blues, rock, soul and jazz fills out a perfectly weighted r&b review.  Perhaps only the belated cover of ‘Let The Good Times Roll’ and the funky ‘Opener’ (heavily reminiscent of ‘Shaky Ground’) could probably have been sequenced earlier in the set. It’s a small quibble on an otherwise excellent and exhilarating double DVD and CD that musically bursts at the seams.

Thorbjørn’s ten piece band features two guitars, three horns, two back up singers, keyboards, bass and drums, all of whom weave a musical tapestry round his growling baritone. His phrasing sounds as if he’s from the Deep South rather than from northern Europe. It’s also refreshing to find a band that relies on their musical chops and song writing values rather than hyping up a crowd with big gestures with little substance.

The DVD gets the full multi camera treatment and draws the viewer into the band’s inspired interplay and crisp soloing as they make a real connection with their audience.

There’s no a weak link, from the rock solid grooves of bass player Søren Bøjgaard and a kicking horn section to guitarist Peter Skjerning who makes up for an unconvincing Stetson with a mix of intricate, fiery and slide guitar.

The opening swagger of ‘If You Wanna Leave’ sets the standard for the next 100 minutes, before Thorbjørn gets low down and bluesy on the Ray Charles styled ‘Paradise’ complete with a funky undertow.

The Black Tornado is that rare thing, a big band that supports the arrangements rather than dominates them. The songs are built from the ground up on a subtly paced set that always showcases Thorbjørn’s rich timbre.

There real diversity too, as evidenced by the sparse horn-led ‘Drowning’ which has a dirgy New Orleans feel and could be Tom Waits.  Risager is also a generous band leader, encouraging pianist Emil Balsgaard to lead the ensemble into a hip shuffling, horn inflected boogie ‘The Straight And Narrow Line’, as they stretch out impressively.

The slide-led and twin guitar voiced  ‘Too Many Roads’ is an atmospheric, riff driven groove and another great example of TR creative song writing ability, while the band swings belligerently on the shuffle ‘I’m Tired’, a style they revisit on the booming intensity of ‘All I Want’.

Perhaps the most significant moment comes when TR picks up the crooner’s baton on ‘China Gate’ to interpret the  Nat King Cole classic with authority, substance and real feel, as Peter adds ethereal slide. The last few notes hover over the audience and quietly come to rest in momentary silence before the crowd roars its appreciation.

The funky intro to ‘High Rollin’ is one part Joe Walsh, one part Rolling Stones and racks up the tension before a horn pumping resolution on the chorus.

They further funk things up on ‘Get Up, Get Higher’ and explore a soulful ballad on ‘Through The Tears’. Better still, is the truly marvellous melodic groove and atmospheric ‘Long Forgotten Track’. The song evokes a portentous mood over a jangling guitar figure on combination of cool restraint, nuanced phrasing and vivid lyrical imagery.

‘Songs From The Road’ builds imperiously to a suitably celebratory finish, while the first encore ‘I Wont Let You Down’, is an unexpected Americana influenced duet with Lisa Lystam. A bristling funky finish rounds off a great live album and confirms the band really are as good as their last studio album suggested.  *****

Review by Pete Feenstra

Pete Feenstra presents his Rock & Blues Show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Tuesday at 19:00 GMT, and “The Pete Feenstra Feature” on Sundays at 19:00

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