Saturday, May 13, 2017

Thorbjorn Risager & The Black Tornado - Change My Game

With his cadaverous features and trilby hat, Thorbjorn Risager looks more like German conceptual artist Joseph Beuys than your typical blues man.  Don’t be fooled though – Change My Game is a multi-faceted blues treat from the Danish bandleader and his gang, The Black Tornado.
Risager leads the way on guitar and vocals, and his rich and resonant voice is one of several unifying elements that holds its diverse styles together.  Across the album he bends his deep tones to crooning, rasping or booming as required, and does so with character.  So
The Black Tornado - a 7 piece blues storm
if the cool and subdued opener ‘I Used To Love You’ has an air of ‘Thrill Is Gone’ about it, Risager manages to convey more than the usual wistful regret; he hints at distaste, having been taken for a ride.
The album is also held together by a full, soulful sound in which the horns of Kaspar Wagner, Hans Nybo and Peter Kehl add plenty of colour, ranging from the subtle undercurrent on the contemplative, pulsing ‘Long Gone’ to bold and brassy on the likes of the driving ‘Hold My Lover Tight’.  But when The Black Tornado really find their groove the mainspring is drummer Martin Seidelin, who gets himself fathoms-deep in the pocket.
‘Dreamland’ and the title track build on that groove with big, fat, fuzzy riffs from Risager and guitar buddy Peter Skjerning.  The former builds up to a big, Stax-like conclusion, while ‘Change My Game’ with its throbbing funk sound, suggests that Risager and co have studied the later Stax moves of Isaac Hayes.
They take a slightly different tack on ‘Maybe It’s Alright’, on which the parping horns, swirling organ, female backing vocals and ringing guitars vaguely suggest the Stones in the manner of, say, ‘Happy’.  Or maybe not – but it’s still a rocking chunk of R’n’B.
They roll the dice elsewhere though.  ‘Holler And Moan’ is a rather clichéd slice of, well,
hollering and moaning, and perhaps the least successful track on offer, but even it’s enlivened by some N’Awlins jazziness from Kehl’s trumpet.  ‘Train’ may be another blues cliché, complete with “fifteen coaches”, but with its clanking percussion it still works – and who doesn’t like a train song?  More adventurously, they manage to weave an Eagles-like feel into ‘Hard Time’, with some twanging guitar, but between Risager’s voice and the closing horn riffs they still tie it into their soulful blues vibe.
The real outlier is penultimate track ‘Lay My Burden Down’, a sparely arranged minor key ballad that suggests a distinctively European sensibility with its Jacques Brel-like feel.  They come back to the fold with closing stomper ‘City Of Love’ though, on which they uncork another big fat fuzzy riff, before ultimately spiralling away on an organ solo and some wailing guitar, like a tornado receding into the distance.

Change My Game may lack a stone-cold classic song to hang a gold medal around, but it’s a sterling collection of impressive material and musicianship from a top notch band, and it demands repeated listening.  Go for it!

Thorbjorn Risager & The Black Tornado are playing in Britain in September:
28 September - Edinburgh Blues Club, The Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh
29 September - Hartlepool Blues Club
30 September - Carlisle Blues Festival

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