In case you’re new to this lady of the blues, then let’s start with the name…it’s pronounced Ehr-yah (and is the Finnish equivalent of Irene, in case you wondered).
Erja Lyytinen picked up the guitar at age fifteen and went on to study music in various academies, which culminated in her being awarded a Master of Music Degree. I actually found out about her and her music via the Blues Caravan Tour that Ruf Records organised with Aynsley Lister and Ian Parker alongside and the subsequent album, Pilgrimage. August company indeed, that she more than matched and brought a new dimension to blues interpretations and originals: on the strength of that tour, I sought out all of her work…not easy as I could only find her debut (Attention!) and second and third albums (Wildflower, It’s A Blessing) from a sithttps://bluesdoodles.com/cd-review/erja-lyytinen-exciting-blues-ensures-listeners-stolen-hearts/e in Finland, without an English translation option! I persevered and got them, loved them and have bought everything since… Dreamland Blues, Grip Of The Blues, Voracious Love, Songs From The Road, Forbidden Fruit, the wonderful tribute to Elmore James that was The Sky Is Crying, Stolen Hearts, Live at the 100 Club, and last year’s Another World. I still get emails in Finnish after that purchase and haven’t a clue what they say!
Her latest release is the result of the hellish situation that the world finds itself in: Covid has altered everything and many of us are suffering the loss of earnings and other difficulties. Musicians have had their lifeblood drained as concerts are the biggest revenue stream for them due to the minuscule amount they get from digital sales (as well as their built-in ‘need to perform’). Erja decided to put this right for her fans via the Interweb on a ‘pay per view’ basis and, despite the lack of an audience, the band succeeded in putting on a blisteringly good show that we can all share now it’s available as a CD/DVD release called, descriptively, Lockdown 2020 Live. Unsurprisingly the setlist majors on songs from last year’s Another World album but does have selections from her earlier works (I’ve listed the source albums in the tracklisting because if you haven’t got them yet, you will want them.) Sure, fans like me would have liked some from the other CDs…Talk Dirty, Press My Button, or the glorious King of the Slide Guitar; but then she has the last album to promote and every fan would choose a different set and so I’ve no real complaint.
If you ever wondered why Erja gained the label “Queen of Slide Guitar” then just listen to her bottleneck fly across the strings on the opening blues-rocker Don’t Let A Good Woman Down and you will wonder no more. Although the live sound (or the compression on my copy) is a little muddy, the searing slide still shows through and you can still hear the very proficient band that compliments her playing and style…I loved the original and, with a bit of extra bite, this version is even better.
Cherry Overdrive is from Another World, a collection that saw a shift to the heavier side of blues-rock. This track still has the glorious slide present behind the heavy, bluesy riff that has some great Hammond too. After a gentle bridge, Erja delivers a lovely example of how to make the slide sing on a simply brilliant solo. Black Ocean is a bass/lead guitar riff-driven hunk of blues-rock that has a Creamy and Free sort of power while remaining all Erja…especially the delicious picked solo.
Hard As Stone has a start/stop riff that gets you involved and this alternates with a gentler chorus that fits well and she certainly puts plenty of emotion into the crowd-free recording. It also has a solo that traverses the neck and the use of fuzz, sustain, bends and wah make sure it is enjoyable throughout. Torn is a lovely slow blues song that has bass and drums working together to great effect. The chorus borders on poppy but with the clever, understated, too short guitar solo, it’s still a fresh take on the blues. Dreamland Blues was one of the first of her songs I heard on the Pilgrimage album and so I was delighted to hear it being aired afresh…the slide is back and a catchy as hell riff keeps you engaged and (old bloke phrase warning) bopping along happily. The slide solo is intuitive, original, and plays so brilliantly with the melodies, you wish it wouldn’t end. Lover’s Novels is a faster, slinky slide driven song with the sharp chords of the guitar and electric piano keeping it all together during the verses…the solo is, guess what? superb and too short! Another World is a mid-paced heavy blues song with great Hammond backing and a guitar solo that is pure rock…wha’d, inventive and with a clarity, many guitarists seem to miss.
Midway through, Erja actually engages with the unseen audience and encourages them to sing along…I did, I hope the rest did too. Snake In The Grass probably started as a true R’n’B sound but with the heavy duet of guitar and Hammond it becomes a kind of truly original blues-rock song with so many flourishes that it needs repeated listens to appreciate it all. Needless to say, the solo is genius with the wah pedal again present and used erm..to great effect as she again uses most of the fretboard. The bass behind the solo is well worth listening to too.
Rocking Chair, as the name suggests, is rock-based and follows a familiar structure but with originality that takes advantage of rather than just copies. The slide/picked/wah’d solo is astounding as the Hammond pins the riff firmly for the guitar to dance across. Wedding Day is a rapid shuffle that is bluesed up R’n’B with a Wilko kind of riff but with some more great slide and a very high-quality Hammond solo.
The set closes with, to me at least, a surprise inclusion from her second album…Wildflower was naive to a certain extent but was still packed with some gorgeous playing and showed the immense talent and potential…here Erja gives this ballad a subtle update and, whilst it isn’t the rocker that many would expect a concert to close on, it works really well with its message of hope and strength and an improved, clever picked solo that winds us down and sends us home (figuratively) happy.
I have always loved the way Erja plays the guitar: the emotion, energy and passion flows through her dextrous fingers and bottleneck and this albums shows it all beautifully.
By the way, if you live in Finland, you can buy her own brand of tea too…’The Blues Queen Tea’ is apparently a unique blend; but I’m a coffee person so unless a new type of bean is on her agenda (preferably not one that depends on passing through the digestive tract of a rodent) then I’ll have to pass. She has also written an autobiography although, at the moment at least, that is only in Finnish but she is working on translations…Erja sure knows how to keep busy! (There is an eight venue UK tour (five of them with the equally delectable Chantel McGregor) planned for February 2021…lets hope the national lockdowns that are re-occurring across Europe have suppressed the evil bug so that tours can start again.)
Bluesdoodles rating: A Wonderful, album packed with quality songs and musicianship that feeds the blues into many different guises so well.
Tracklisting (CD and DVD):
1. Don’t Let A Good Woman Down (Voracious Love – 2010)
2. Cherry Overdrive (Another World – 2019)
3. Black Ocean (Stolen Hearts – 2017)
4. Hard As Stone (Another World)
5. Torn (Another World)
6. Dreamland Blues (Dreamland Blues – 2006)
7. Lover’s Novels (Stolen Hearts)
8. Another World (Another World)
9. Snake In The Grass (Another World)
10. Rocking Chair (Stolen Hearts)
11. Wedding Day (Another World)
12. Wildflower (Wildflower – 2003)
Recorded live at Bluesounds Studios in Kuopio, Finland