Blues Boulevard [Release date 27.11.15]
Australian guitarist Rob Tognoni’s website suggests that his three elemental musical concepts are power, passion and presence. And while ‘Birra for Lirra’ undoubtedly embodies all three alongside his consistently good guitar playing, his material lacks focus and subject matter.
The high energy album rocks hard, as evidenced by his slashing power chords and razor sharp riffs which stand in sharp contrast to the reflective lyrics of ’No Longer 1983′.
Tognoni is an unreconstructed rocker whose favourite place in the world is on the stand belting it out live to a club crowd, though as the live Danish bonus track suggests, he’s not averse to making shapes in front of giant festival crowds.
‘Birra For Lirra’ is frustrating album as it suggest so much, but never quite delivers. His big tones and incendiary guitar playing frequently builds the tension of a song to breaking point, but he often fails to nail the sings full potential. He even spurns the opportunity to stretch out on the live cut of The Doors ‘Roadhouse Blues’, which cries out for Rob’s crowd engaging abilities.
As it is, ‘Birra For Lirra’ makes its impact with short sharp arrangements and dynamic breaks that would make unlikely bedfellows like Rory Gallagher and the punk bands smile.
Rob does his real talking with his guitar, while the songs and lyrics are no more than a vehicle for his licks. He’s in his element when cranking things up, as on hypnotic AC/DC style riff of ‘Dance Like This’, which he pushes to the limit before settling for a quiet fade. Then there’s the after hours instrumental boogie of ’2am’ which emphasizes his presence. It’s successful exercise in dynamics with a conversational solo delivered with a cool tone, but there’s no disguising that its a filler on an album that’s a few songs short of a full house.
The opening ‘Lost Our Blues In The City Of Rome’ distills his craft over some trademark chord changes, a growled voice and a catchy hook. The sense of urgency in the track defines Rob’s restless approach to blues-rock, as he builds his arrangements full of an anticipatory tension.
The title track is unashamedly AC/DC influenced, with a huge opening riff, a contrasting shrill guitar line and a staccato rhythm which serves to bring our attention back to the opening riff used to top and tail the song.
There’s an interesting opening guitar line on ‘Drink My Wine’ which disappointingly gives way to some forgettable lyrics. ’Down By the Sea’ opens with portentous sounding, twang laden chord changes and is the closest he gets to a love song. It’s a surprisingly melodic, retro piece that occasionally evokes The Shadows.
He fattens his sound on ‘Nonna Rina’ with layered keys and a twang guitar figure to bring welcome variety to an album that all too rarely strays from the power chord/hard riff blueprint. And after barely 75 seconds of the engaging instrumental ‘Triple Express’, its all over bar the shouting.
Given the brevity of this album, this track surely could have been developed into something of jam, particularly as the interwoven guitar and percussion parts work so well. As it is, a perfunctory finish signals the end of an album that is short, sharp and to the point, just how Rob likes it. ***½
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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