Friday, September 9, 2022

Thorbjørn Risager & The Black Tornado - Navigation Blues

Thorbjørn Risager & The Black Tornado certainly know how to rock the blues, as their 2015  live album Songs From The Road amply demonstrated.  But there have always been more sides to Risager’s songwriting than simple boogie, and the seven-piece Black Tornado have plenty tools in their bag to pursue different musical options.
Several tracks on Navigation Blues are built on a foundation of acoustic rhythm guitar, as was the case on 2020’s Come On In, but that’s merely the starting point for a variety of song styles and textures.  ‘Navigation Blues’ itself kicks off as a primitive blues stomp in a measured tempo, with percussive strumming, a basic drumbeat, and a hypnotic electric guitar motif that turns over and over before ultimately breaking out into a spiky, steely solo that complements the song in purposeful fashion.  But a couple of tracks later ‘The Way You Make Me Feel’ is a more soulful
Red carpet treatment for the Black Tornado
Pic by Christoffer Askman

affair, redolent of Canadian master of stripped back soul Matt Andersen. ‘Blue Lullaby’, meanwhile, comes over like Risager has been listening to some Jimmy Webb, starting with just his voice and acoustic guitar to the fore, but gradually painting some subtle shading into the background, including both viola and glockenspiel courtesy of guitarist Joachim Svensmark to become lush and romantic.  And the slow and steady ‘Something To Hold On To’, leaning entirely on simple acoustic strumming and Risager’s emotive vocal, suggests Kris Kristofferson.
‘Hoodoo Lover’ dials up a ‘Lay Down Sally’-type JJ Cale vibe, with a shuffling, butt-wiggling rhythm from drummer Martin Seidelin, bright, twanging guitars, and tweaks and twinks from the horns, leading up to some Albert Lee-like guitar soloing, mixed in with rippling piano.  But if it’s real rocking you’re after then ‘Headed For The Stars’ is the pick of the bunch.  With its thumping metronomic beat and throbbing bass, and some smartly harmonised guitar breaks, its chunkiness surfaces the influences on Risager of ZZ Top – even more so, in fact, than ‘Fire Inside’, which is apparently a tribute to the late Dusty Hill but with its ringing riff and snapping backbeat, enlivened by some wah-guitar notes and chiming piano, leading into a wiry guitar solo.
There’s more besides, such as ‘Watch The Sun Go Down’, again with acoustic guitar overlaid with a slide riff and backed by a crisply swinging beat and lurching bass, and with some rhythmic changes on the third verse to keep your ears peeled.  And the jaunty, bobbing and weaving ‘Taking The Good With The Bad’ is good, upbeat fun, with warm Fender Rhodes piano and chirruping female backing vocals
These stylistic variations are held together by Thorbjørn Risager’s resonant bass voice, which also glides effortlessly over the top of the clacking, horn-tootling blueings of ‘Whatever Price’ with a sweetly catchy melody, and also evokes sadness and emotional burdens on the closing, low key ‘Heart Crash’, set to a twinkling guitar refrain and some spooky viola playing, and with an intriguing semi-classical bridge led by goodness knows what instrument.
The comparative namechecks I’ve offered above will say plenty about the range of the material served up here.  But what’s just as impressive, as ever with the Black Tornado, is that the execution is not only on the money, but sounds effortless.  Navigation Blues will undoubtedly be one of the most interesting albums of the year, confirming that Risager and his gang are among the smartest, most imaginative blues’n’roots outfits out there.
Navigation Blues
 is released by Provogue Records on 30 September, and can be ordered here.

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