Thorbjorn Risager & The Black Tornado - Change My Game

Ruf [Release date 27.01.17]

Danish big band soulful blues/rockers Thorbjorn Risager & The Black Tornado find themselves in uncharted waters with their new album ‘Change My Game’.

Such was the critical acclaim of their last 2 albums, that ‘Change My Game’ has much to live up to.

Happily it does so impressively, as the band falls back on their twin strengths of strong songwriting and a stylistic equilibrium that is blues based, but is never constrained by that label.

For example, they rock out with real intensity on the juggernaut ‘Hold My Lover Tight’, while the spine tingling ‘Lay My Burden Down’ gives vocalist Thorbjorn Risager the kind of arrangement on which he can bring his full baritone timbre to bear on the song and imbue the lyrics with heartfelt emotion.

The album seamlessly explores rock, blues, gently crafted ballads, soul, r&b and deeply wrought funk. They occasionally strip things down to the bare minimum, while the closing ‘City Of Love’ almost belatedly broaches prog rock.

There’s a strand of resilient self confidence at the heart of this album, as evidenced by the opening ‘I Used To Love Her’. It beguiles us with its hint of regret, as the subtle horns frame Risager’s emotive baritone on the kind of song that you might normally expect to find deep into the set.

A warm production cleverly highlights the solos, offset by layered sounds and harmony vocals  There’s also a few subtly extended gaps between the songs to create a moment of expectation that draws you into the next track.

Having opened in an almost melancholic mood, the album slips into some customized funk on a brace of songs, of which ‘Dreamland’ utilizes the full heft of the band on a sledgehammer riff that incorporates significant bv’s and resolves itself on a boom laden hook.

Risager dominates the track with his husky phrasing, while voicing the familiar themes of travelling and moving on, as the band stretches a big dance floor friendly groove over an earthy Hammond.

There’s more accented funk on the title track, as TR extends his vowels over another deep groove with a catchy sing-along hook and punchy horns.

In contrast,  the down-home, accapella driven ‘Holler n’ Moan’ perfectly captures the flow of an album that cleverly showcases the band’s multi genre capability without losing its essential focus.

It’s a subtly produced track featuring guitarist Peter Skjerning’s banjo sound and a bottom-end percussion that makes it sound like a rail road work song. An unexpected muted trumpet and horn line offsets the acappella coda which lingers in the mind long after the song finishes.

The album twists and turns unexpectedly to emphasize the band’s versatility and cross genre writing ability. The harmony led, Americana influenced ‘Hard Time’ sounds light years away from the earlier title track, but it illustrates the band’s adventurous approach while still retaining their essential DNA. That’s not an easy task when you’re grounded in the familiarity of the blues, but The Black Tornado have never had time for restrictive options

On ‘Long Gone’, they extend the Americana feel with a soulful after hours vibe, anchored by Soren Bojgaard’s Memphis style bass line,  an aching horn arrangement and a distant pedal steel figure. Better still, Thorjorn’s evocative phrasing conjures up filmic imagery as he emotes the core line: “I’ll be long gone when the wolves start howling at the moon”, on a classic track.

‘Change My Game’ sounds fresh and vibrant and the band remains the glorious sum of it’s sundry parts, all glued together by Risager’s deep phrasing. He reaches his zenith on ‘Lay My Burden Down’, on which his timbre, phrasing and sense of timing mark him out as special.

‘Maybe It’s Alright’ also benefits from subtle harmonies, bv’s and a gospel style finish to fatten out the song.

The Black Tornado throw out a challenge to complacency of the American blues scene by following their own path. They draw on a rich heritage of blues, jazz, r&b, soul, funk and rock to pen songs of such stature that they contemporize every facet of their music.

Together with Thorbjorn Risager’s unique voice they leave the listener hitting the play again button. Job done. ****

Review by Pete Feenstra

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