I’m on record as having been less than impressed by Erja Lyytinen’s last album, Stolen Hearts - unconvinced by the vocals, and by the quality of some of the songs. So I didn’t exactly approach her latest album with a gleeful disposition. Then the PR bumf talks about Lyytinen explaining that “The album title is the idea of stepping into a new territory, musically and spiritually. Walking towards a new land of musical ideas, not being afraid to express myself.” And I think to myself, really?
But you know what? I do believe the lady may have a point.
On Another World Erja Lyytinen largely eschews her blues background, and instead explores a more prog-rock oeuvre, with some folk song underpinnings. The end result may not be entirely consistent, but boy does she sound more comfortable.
|A worldly wise shift in direction from Erja Lyytinen|
The sense of something different is apparent right from the first track ‘Snake In The Grass’, with an intro on which competing guitar lines from Lyytinen and former Michael Jackson collaborator Jennifer Batten trill like bagpipes on helium over some meaty chords, leading to Lyytinen delivering a polished melody with vocals stronger than I’ve heard from her previously. The overall effect is a kind of glittering proggy pop, in the manner of Steve Morse’s “other” outfit Flying Colors, perhaps.
I dunno what a ‘Cherry Overdrive’ is, but the track progresses nicely from a subdued, tense opening to a tougher chorus, and offers neat flourishes of instrumentation and back vocals en route to a moody and shimmering middle segment. The title track sounds like it has folk song roots, but with major electrification and the injection of some big chords, and while the song isn’t hugely original – and suffers from some adolescent lyrics – Lyytinen adds a solo that fits the bill, ahead of a funky closing section and some further pleasingly twiddly guitarwork.
At which point it’s clear that credit is due to the production, by Lyytinen herself, and to the mixing by Austin’s Chris Bell, which give a satisfying depth and modern sheen to the sound throughout.
The first half of the album concludes with ‘Hard As Stone’, which again appears to have folk song roots – we’re talking European folk song roots here, in case you’re in any doubt, not Dylan – with a stuttering verse and a simple melody on the chorus. Lyytinen’s solo is a slow burn, demonstrating good control, topped off with some double-tracked lead guitar as it develops into a quicker section.
The latter half of this eight track outing is less robust, but there are still things worthy of attention. ‘Wedding Dress’ is a bluesy shuffle that may be a bit inconsequential, and with some corny lyrics to boot, but it’s approached with gusto, and between Lyytinen and guest Sonny Landreth there are some tasty slide guitar tones to the fore. ‘Miracle’ has a subtle, restrained arrangement with some interesting rhythms from Ipe Laitinen on drums – but never clever-clever – and nice interplay between Lyytinen’s guitar and Tatu Back’s bass, before a well-structured guitar solo built out around some intriguing motifs.
Lyytinen brings some violin playing to ‘Torn’, another folky-prog outing that brings to mind the likes of Renaissance – a bit weedy for my tastes, but well executed if you like that sort of thing. Meanwhile the closing ‘Break My Heart Gently’ is a reflective ballad, simply constructed – a bit repetitive, if one wanted to be harsh – but with its weeping slide guitar tones courtesy of Lyytinen and Landreth once again, it offers a satisfying enough dying fall.
Have I become an Erja Lyytinen convert then? No, I haven’t. But that’s not the point. I think that with Another World Erja Lyytinen has found herself, and taken a big step in a direction that suits her. What she does next could be interesting.
Another World is released by Tuohi Records and Bluesland Productions on 26 April.