Tuohi Records [Release date 07.04.17]
Given the rigorously defined nature of the blues scene in some people’s eyes, Erja Lyytinen probably wouldn’t thank anyone for suggesting that over the course of the last few years she’s become a beacon on a predictable blues landscape.
She’s a forward looking artist who is very much in the vanguard of European blues, and unlike some of her American counterparts she isn’t weighed down by historic expectation or cliché.
‘Stolen Hearts’ feels like a conscious attempt to broaden her blues-rock template. She sparkles as a slide guitarist, but this album is the result of a three album continuum from which she has emerged as a thoughtful songwriter of real substance.
She’s always been unafraid to cross genres ,as evidenced by her international debut album ‘Dreamland Blues’, the R&B feel of ‘Grip Of The Blues’, and the confessional nature of ‘Forbidden Fruit’ which moved her up a level as a songwriter.
‘Stolen Hearts’ also places a strong emphasis on her vocals, via a lush production with an imposing sonic quality that highlights her intricate dynamics, an array of guitar parts and occasionally layered sounds.
It’s a coherent musical journey that opens with the commercially tinged title track complete with a booming hook and concludes with the stripped down version of ‘Broken Eyes’ – a vocal a tour de force with accompanying piano, bv’s and a distant pedal steel. The harmony drenched melodic love song is the perfect bookend to an album that explores sundry musical possibilities, while remaining a catalyst for contemporary blues.
She also refreshingly pens songs with meaningful narratives that help showcase her sinuous solos and sumptuous tones. Such is the emotional pull of some of her songs – notably on the unforgiving slow blues of ‘Slowly Burning’ – that she almost over sings it in trying to nail the lyrical emotion.
She quickly redresses the balance with a cool perfunctory guitar finish and follows that with the subtle slide-led ‘Lover’s Novels’, on which her guitar locks into a call and response sequence with her vocal phrasing to achieve an appealing phonetic quality.
It’s also a perfect example of the detail of her work, which is full of lyrical nuances and musical impulses that give the album its imperative
And right at the heart of it all and surprisingly early in the song sequence is ‘Black Ocean’, a triumph of the whole of over its intricate parts. Erja subtly shifts from a funky riff-led, blues-rock introduction into a prog rock break.
It’s a great example of how the different influences on the album come to rest on one track in particular and help transform it into a song of epic proportions. The extended guitar-led resolution is perhaps something that only someone like Chantel McGregor would tackle.
‘Rocking Chair’ also thinks nothing of borrowing a Zeppelin riff and a solo that evokes Man’s late, great Micky Jones, before she fuses it with a potent hook.
She’s then surprisingly circumspect on the clever stop-start arrangement of ‘Love Laboratory.’ The song is full of measured dynamics that belatedly explode into an organic funky groove which evokes the “adrenalin” and the “physical reaction” of the lyrics.
It’s also a very good example of how her arrangements mirror lyrical meaning on a coherent, adventurous, yet well balanced album that fully showcases her abilities.
The atmospheric Silver Stones’ is different again and the melodic undertow could have come from ‘Forbidden Fruit’, while the observational narrative on ‘City Of Angels’ brings a refreshing take on the oft used subject matter of LA.
The album’s pre-planning also self evidently pays dividends. The basic tracks were recorded in Finland before moving to London where the former Stones producer Chris Kimsey added his magical dust.
The end result is Lyytinen’s finest vocal performance of her career, as evidenced by the radio friendly ’24 Hours’, an outstanding melodic co-write with guitarist Alan Darby, which flows mellifluously as it moves from a close-to-the-mic breathy vocal intro, via an aching slide line into a growling buzz saw solo.
‘Stolen Hearts’ is a lovingly crafted album, with enough musical and lyrical depth, as well as salient hooks to withstand extended scrutiny and satisfy its potential crossover market.
Unreservedly recommended. ****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 20:00
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