To an ignorant Englishman like me, this artist may sound like he was named after the composer that is one of the ‘Bs’ in Abba and the god of thunder! Mind you, second thoughts suggest that isn’t as daft as it sounds…a composer with an inherent feel for complex and memorable melodies (albeit on the blues rather than pop side of things) and then an essential ability to add darkness or illumination with flashes of striking instrumentation. OK, I’ll stop the puns now and admit that it was only when he appeared on the blues centric Ruf Records that Thorbjørn Risager came to my attention with the Too Many Roads album. That firmly placed him in the top flight of blues guitarists and sent me on a difficult and expensive hunt for his back catalogue, as there were seven more works of art to be found on the little known Danish Cope Records label, Dust and Scratches being my favourite. It was worth the effort as these, and his other Ruf releases are all worthy of a place in my (or any) blues collection.
Now, with his permanent band given the moniker The Black Tornado, he has a new album called Come On In available on Ruf records. It has a little more acoustic blues than I was expecting but that isn’t a bad thing at all and the good news is the whole album comes together brilliantly and is even better than the others and that is some achievement! Prepare for Thorbjørn’s versatile and soulful voice alongside his skilful guitar playing, backed by a band that seem to have a psychic link that keeps everything tight and emotionally apt regardless of tempo.
It all starts in fine style with the title track that combines infectious rhythms and subtle chords and tremolo use on the guitar. The horns come in to bring depth without overpowering and all of it leaves space to enjoy the lyricism of the vocals. Take note of the bass and percussion too as they all combine to make an irresistible, catchy and enjoyable start. It may be a low-key start, but any doubts are wiped away by the simply gorgeous guitars on the intro to Last Train. This is blues personified as the vocals and slide envelop and take you on the ride with him. The rest of the band join in and take into mild blues-rock territory…this is a faultless track with so much to listen to: it grows with each listen.
Nobody But The Moon addresses some of the more distasteful issues of the day but with the backing being almost breezy, it soon draws you in with the complex and picture painting instrumentation…the highlight is the cinematic middle section with the horns evoking a film score set on the French Riviera: yes, I want more guitar solos, but Thorbjørn knows when not to solo as well as when he should. Two Lovers is low register vocals with lovely strummed acoustic and electric slide guitar behind. Again, it pulls you in and the multi-tracked vocals add so much depth on the choruses. The slide solo isn’t so much a solo as a few supremely well-judged notes that lead to a clever strummed piece that could/should have gone on for much longer. Never Givin’ In is more upbeat with lovely picked guitars cementing the melodies as the band build layers behind the vocal. The dénouement of soft horns and slide is captivating. Sin City is next and no, it isn’t that one…it is Thorbjørn and the band doing the blues the way they should be done…guitars providing the rhythm and percussion allowing the vocals to shine. Although you should also listen behind it all, to appreciate the wonderful playing and that’s before one of the most inventive slide pieces ever…way too short and then the band put in a 007-esque horn close.
We move into boogie land (of the blues wonderland) with the pacey Over The Hill: it has a touch of Tore Down about it in a good way as the celebratory backing reflects the lyrics. We do get short guitar and sax solos to ensure the jumping nature of the song maintains its authenticity. On And On takes us back to the cinema with a soundtrack feel that would suit any number of so-called noir films. It has keys and guitar intro and one of the best vocals on the album as the slow and soulful blues belies the slightly upbeat lyric. A difficult one to categorise…I’ll simply file it under ‘atmospheric, involving and enthralling’. Love So Fine ups the pace with a wonderful slice of proper blues-rock…this could have been on an album like Come ‘n’ Get It without raising an eyebrow even though it has some great and subtle horns behind the riff and piano fills. Then, at last, we get a couple of true guitar solos that are still too short but have the runs and bends the track demanded. The closing track, I’ll Be Gone, brings back the exquisite acoustic and a song that is fresh from the 30s…now that seems a direct contradiction in terms, until you hear it. The slide is majestic and I’d buy the album just for this short solo! The playing throughout needs to be listened to, not just heard, as the backing strumming and slide are remarkable throughout.
On first listen, as a guitar addict, I admit I was a little disappointed…on second, third and fourth listen I realised that this is actually a masterpiece that may not supply umpteen solos but it has a depth and passion that transcends normal structures and just supplies ten tracks of wonderful diversity and such strong playing that even the addiction faded and allowed me to bask in the blues-based world that these talented guys have brought together. So forget any preconceptions, listen closely to the skills on offer and just enjoy.
Bluesdoodles rating: Stupendous – definitely an album for your must-listen collection
- Come On In
- Last Train
- Nobody But The Moon
- Two Lovers
- Never Givin’ In
- Sin City
- Over The Hill
- On And On
- Love So Fine
- I’ll Be Gone
Thorbjørn Risager: vocals, guitar
Emil Balsgaard: piano, organ, wurlitzer, synthesizer
Joachim Svensmark: guitar, synthesizer, bg vocal
Kasper Wagner: alto saxophone, tenor saxophone, baritone saxophone
Hans Nybo: tenor saxophone
Peter Kehl: trumpet, flugelhorn, trombone, sousaphone
Søren Bøjgaard: bass, moog bass, synthesizer
Martin Seidelin: drums, percussion
(The itunes run on track was more Thorbjørn as if to remind me how good all of his music is.)