Ruf [Release date 21.09.21]
If there’s still a debate about the merits of European blues as opposed to its American antecedents, then Denmark’s Thorbjørn Risager & The Black Tornado have finally kicked the argument into touch with this stellar ‘Best Of’ compilation album.
The album perfectly illustrates the way the band have grown into becoming the best at what they could possibly be, as they hammer home every meaningful note of their big band blues style.
From the opening ‘Rock N’ Roll Ride and CD 2′s ‘If You Wanna Leave’ to the double helping of the new single ‘Same Old Lies’, Thorbjørn Risager & The Black Tornado take us on a 20 year musical journey during which time their imaginative take on the blues has established them as one of Europe’s leading big band blues-rock and soul outfits.
Risager is the natural focal point, being the reincarnation of Ray Charles. His gnarled baritone benefits from some emotive phrasing and an ability to evoke lyrical meaning on a deep soulful blues like ‘Through The Tears’, or the polar opposite when he rocks hard on the funky powerhouse stop of ‘Dreamland’.
The Black Tornado is the classic example of a big band being the sum of its parts.
So while the core of this 20 year project is based round Thorbjørn Risager on vocals and guitar; Emil Balsgaard on piano, organ, wurlitzer, and synth; saxophonist Kasper Wagner; trumpeter Peter Kehl – who came on board circa 2007 – and the rhythm section of bassist Søren Bøjgaard and drummer Martin Seidelin, they are fluid enough to bring in newer guitarist Joachim Svensmark who doubles on slide and synth.
The upshot is a rollicking big band with a pumping horn section, on a passionate mix of rock, blues, swing, soul, funk, dirty shuffles and occasional acoustic blues touches.
Svensmark’s slide playing levers us into the opening ‘Rock N’ Roll Ride’ as the band shifts from the brusque to the empathetic on the booming ‘If You Wanna Leave’, while both tracks benefit from hand claps over a stomping beat.
Everything comes together on the album highlight ‘Long Forgotten Track’, which is a magisterial groove with great lyrics: “Upon a mountain steady rollin’, steam truck driving man, he was riding on that lonesome long forgotten track”. Yes he was!
It’s so good it still stands out even when placed deep into a set full of musical contrast and inspired moments. Listen for example, to ‘Burning Up’, a swampy mesmerising groove with a lovely vocal attack, (albeit mixed back) with an infectious hook, while ‘I Used To Love You’ is a show stopping ballad on a beautiful arrangement with gently picked notes, as Risager accurately sings “A new kind of cool.”
Put simply, this album isn’t called a ‘Best Of’ for nothing. There’s a wonderful flow at the heart of a 20th anniversary collection that explores every aspect of the blues.
So it’s something of a shock when they actually dip into their bluesy antecedents for the jumping shuffle ‘You Better Pay Attention’.
A classic stop-time big band blues workout with lovely piano, double bass, kicking horns and TR’s effortless phrasing, it serves to illustrate just how far the band has grown over 2 decades in terms of style and song craft without losing one iota of passion.
For sheer contrast, listen to the rip-roaring ‘Hold My Lover Tight’ and the reworked Harold Adamson penned, Nat King Cole classic ‘China Gate’. and you are hearing a hugely confident band unafraid to follow where their creativity takes them.
For a big band they also explore subtle layered moments, such as on the compelling brush stroked train-time shuffle ‘I Won’t Let You Down’, complete with washboard and piano.
Then there’s the beautifully crafted ‘I’m Not Giving In’, on which the subtle rhythm track frames TR’s deep baritone voice and gives the set a new dimension.
On the belligerent stomp of ‘Maybe It’s Alright’, TR sings: “Down below the ashes there’s still a spark that burns my soul,”which given the band’s consistency could be comment about themselves.
For good measure, there’s a couple of live cuts too, of which the powerful ‘High Rollin’ is everything you might expect from a band who when they rock out sound like an unstoppable steamroller.
And right when you think they have revealed all their abilities, they unravel the uplifting drone of ‘Too Many Roads’, which is an exemplar of their unique style.
The 20 year musical journey is rounded off by the contrasting acoustic and electric versions of the new single of ‘Same Old Lies’, which opens with an atmospheric thunderstorm and noir feel, and by the time of the closing electric version finishes with a full blown big band, horn-led swagger.
In fact, it provides the perfect summation of the full musical sweep of a remarkable band whose ‘Best Of’ compilation is easily my album of the year. *****
Review by Pete Feenstra
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Power Plays w/c 16 May 2022 (Mon-Fri)
FLOYA The Hymn (Arising Empire)
VEXES The Dream Disease (indie)
NEAR DUSK The Way It Goes (Iron Head Records)
IN SEARCH OF SUN Make Me Crazy (indie)
WALLNER VAIN Deceive Her (indie)
FIGHT THE FADE Where You Go I Go (FiXT)
MARATON Non-Euclidean Heart (Indie Recordings)
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09:00-12:00 TERRA NOVA Ring That Bell (Lion Music)
12:00-13:00 FOZZY Boombox (Mascot)
14:00-16:00 MICHAEL McDERMOTT St.Paul’s Boulevard (Pauper Sky Records)
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