Sunday, October 1, 2017

Thorbjørn Risager & The Black Tornado - Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh, 29 September 2017

If you’re a blues band hailing from Denmark then you’d better be bloody good if you want to make an impact.  Thorbjørn Risager & The Black Tornado clear that bar with room to spare.
The beanpole that is Thorbjørn Risager is the main man on numerous fronts.  It’s a cliché to describe a blues singer’s voice as gravelly, but Risager definitely lives up to the tag, and makes versatile use of his instrument to deliver a variety of song styles.  At the same time he shares lead guitar duties with Peter Skjerning, and into the bargain his rhythm guitar sound is a growling beast fit to compete with his voice.  Oh yeah, and he writes all their original material.  No wonder his name is on the front door.
Thorbjørn Risager - Danish blues ain't cheese
And yet this show demonstrates that The Black Tornado is still very much an ensemble affair, a whole that is great than the sum of its parts, Risager included.  With two guitars, trumpet, sax and keys in addition to bass and drums, they knock out a big, fat mother of a sound, without even trying.  And what’s more, they’re tighter than a cork in a champagne bottle.
All of these qualities are evident in set opener ‘If You Wanna Leave’ which kicks off with a ‘Roadhouse Blues’-like riff and shedloads of grit in the guitar sound, before adding horns to take us down the bright side of the road.  And it’s not much longer before ‘Maybe It’s Alright’ raises the roof still further with its Stones-meets-ZZ Top sound, featuring yet more meaty guitar, plus cracking horn riffs and kickass drums, and some decorative fairground-like organ from Emil Balsgaard as icing on the cake.  It’s a belter, and sets a hell of a standard for them to follow.
They’re not frightened to change tack with the material either.  ‘I Used To Love You’ is a convincingly mournful affair, and later they dial it down again with ‘China Gates’, a Nat King Cole ballad that Risager tells us featured in a movie about the French Indo-Chinese War.  I’ll have to take his word for that, but what I do know is that it’s a subtle affair, with some nice slide guitar from Skjerning.  ‘Long Forgotten Track’ is also a slow and rolling atmospheric piece, with chiming guitar work.
In the midst of all this they also manage to get feet moving with a boogie-woogie jump blues
instrumental on which Hans Nybo produces a big sax solo to go along with Balsgaard’s piano showcase, and punchy drumming from Martin Seidelin that brings to mind Max Weinberg.
Hands up who wants to get down?
Just for good measure Risager introduces a new song called ‘All Your Love’ into the set, inspired by BB King.  And indeed he goes on to deftly channel the spirit of BB with both his guitar tone and his vocal phrasing, over a walking bass line from Soren Bojgaard, while Peter Kehl adds a jazzy trumpet solo.
Other highlights are the nagging ‘Long Gone’, with the horns providing a spot-on counterpoint to the vocals, and a distinctive arrangement of ‘Baby Please Don’t Go’.  But they really cut loose – and I do wish they’d do it a bit more often - on set closer ‘All I Want’, complete with lead guitar harmonising.
Thorbjørn Risager and The Black Tornado bring something fresh, sophisticated and classy to the blues scene.  Risager explores different avenues with his songwriting, and his bandmates follow with conviction, serving up something not to be missed.
Support comes from local outfit Main Street Blues, who as always serve up some interesting song selections held together by an earthy sound.  Derek Smith contributes some dirty guitar licks on Coco Montoya’s ‘Last Dirty Deal’, while John Hay’s bass and Iain Hanna’s organ add some more colour to the palette.  Sean Costello’s ‘Hard Luck Woman’ is strutting but spare, with Smith’s guitar fluid and easy going.  In fact if I do have a criticism it’s that they’re too easy going at times, and could do with upping the energy levels.

But they bring some funk and swing to Warren Haynes’ ‘Before The Bullets Fly’, and generate excellent dynamics on Alvin Lee’s ‘Bluest Blues’, with a melodic intro and swathes of keys from Iain Hanna to enhance the mood.  Main Street Blues have a new album coming soon, and hopefully they'll be giving some welly to their own material.

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