“Do not quench your inspiration and your imagination,” said Vincent van Gogh. “Do not become the slave of your model.”
Thorbjørn Risager & The Black Tornado have probably never come across old Vincent’s advice, but I reckon they’ve observed the sentiment anyway with the creation of Come On In. Because this is an album that respects their blues roots and inspirations, but dares to deliver songs and arrangements that are mouth-wateringly fresh. And in doing so it sets a dizzyingly high standard for new blues releases in 2020.
|"Oi - Thorbjørn! Stop posing and get your round in!"
Pic by Christoffer Askman
The opening title track sets the tone. The lyrics may give a nod and a wink to Stevie Ray Vaughan’s ‘The House Is Rocking’, but the delivery takes a different tack. A pulsing drum beat sets things in motion, locked into a subdued guitar riff, generating a near motorik feel that’s then augmented by some boinging bass and occasional twangs of ghostly guitar. “There’s a jukebox over in the corner playin’,” sings Thorbjørn Risager in that rumbling bass voice. “Won’t you come on in?” Hell yes, that’s what I say!
Acoustic guitar figures heavily in some of the songs, notably the elegiac ‘Two Lovers’, which opens with some simple acoustic strumming, which is then joined by spare, haunted slide guitar notes from Joachim Svensmark and a slow, sombre beat. More textures are added by hints of wood block, deep bass, and smatterings of horns and organ, creating the kind of noir-ish cinematic experience they’ve previously mastered with their cover of the Fifties film theme ‘China Gate’. And they summon up a reflective romantic mood with ‘On And On’, all halting guitar, plangent horns and sparse chimes of piano.
The opening verse of ‘Never Givin’ In’ also leans on nothing more than an acoustic guitar motif and Risager’s expressive voice, before Martin Seidelin’s percussion – bongos, perhaps? – brings a quickening rhythm. It nags at you like an itch you can’t scratch, and is embellished by a moody bridge, with low moaning horns and more spooky guitar that has the feel of a plaintive harp. ‘Sin City’ has more old-time sensibilities, with acoustic picking and a simple, muffled beat supporting an archetypal blues melody, before an outro that centres on a repeated phrase from Peter Kehl’s muted trumpet. The closing ‘I’ll Be Gone’ is in a similar vein, all acoustic strumming and picking of a classic blues riff, with squeaks of electric guitar for emphasis.
The Black Tornado can still whip up a storm though. ‘Last Train’ may start off with chugs of acoustic guitar over handclap-like percussion, but it lifts off when the drums kick in, with guitar hitting stinging chord sequences and notes as the horns offer support in the background. ‘Over The Hill’ goes back to Risager’s early influences, swinging like BB King with its walking bass, glittering guitar fills and bursts of horns, and what once upon a time they might have called a ‘hot’ sax solo. “Good times comin’ my way,” sings Thorbjørn, and he ain’t kidding. Best of all in this vein, there’s ‘Love So Fine’, with its urgent, crunching guitar riff over the propulsive rhythm section of Seidelin and bassist Søren Bøjgaard. It could almost be ZZ Top with added horns, not least because of Risager’s voice as he drawls away like Billy Gibbons, while Svensmark adds a cracking guitar solo as the cherry on the cake.
They even have room to get vaguely Latin with ‘Nobody But The Moon’, with a Hispanic-leaning descending guitar riff over what sounds to these untutored ears like a salsa rhythm conjured up by the bubbling bass and drums, leading to an aching chorus.
Risager has said that some of the songs reflect some uncertainty about where he is in his life, but also an assertive and defiant response, and those themes are certainly apparent on the likes of ‘Never Givin’ In’ and ‘Sin City’. Me, I have no doubts. With Come On In Thorbjørn Risager & The Black Tornado have reaffirmed their status as torchbearers of modern blues.
Come On In is released by Ruf Records on 31 January 2020.