REVIEW: Thorbjørn Risager & The Black Tornado – Navigation Blues

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“Truckloads of darkness here, and my matches are soaking wet,” goes the opening line of lyrics on the new studio outing, “Navigation Blues,” to be released via Provogue/Mascot Records on September 30th, 2022, by the Danish premier-league blues-rock outfit, THORBJØRN RISAGER & THE BLACK TORNADO. It’s been a while since some album has instantly conjured up a mental barrage of black-and-white images of cold winds howling through the dusty streets of some desolate ghost town in the middle of nowhere, as though being the scenes from some obscure, film noir, as-yet-unreleased Jim Jarmusch movie.

The band’s relentless traveling around the globe for the past 20 years has surely ingrained their delivery with a good pinch of authenticity and gravitas, so that from the first few bars on, the music gets you hooked really hard. The title track opening the album is also somewhat reminiscent, in its darkened mood, of the opener, “New Coat of Paint,” on the 1974 Tom Waits album, “The Heart of Saturday Night.” If that isn’t a good enough reason to be excited, I don’t know what is. Maybe it should come as no surprise that none other than Mr. Elwood himself, Dan Aykroyd from The Blues Brothers, has hailed the band’s hot rhythm ‘n’ blues sound as thought it had come from a Stax recording session circa 1965! Further down on the album, these rootsy Danes throw in a bit of soul, Chicago blues, and southern boogie with the raspy voice of Thorbjørn Risager channeling by turns Ray Charles, Van Morrison, and Billy Gibbons of ZZ TOP to a resonant effect. I feel tempted to say that this selection is not only very likely to rank as one of the top blues albums of the year, but also serves as a roadmap to the human soul with the music being a vehicle for journeying back to our most authentic self.

Next up, “Watch the Sun Go Down,” gears up on the ZZ TOP -styled southern boogie, so well, in fact, that the song would make for a brilliant soundtrack for a dusk desert sunset blazing on the Tarantino horizon. Yes, the album resonates with the robust, cinematic air of gritty road movies and sepia-filtered westerns, especially of the arthouse variety. For a blues effort, the full-length offering is quite diverse, ranging from the languid front-porch blues of “The Way You Make Me Feel” to the soulful rock ‘n’ roll grooves of “Hoodoo Lover,” and to the 1960s-tinted garage-rock á la THE ROLLING STONES in “Fire Inside.” The horn section really does justice to the songs, on occasion almost plunging into the New Orleans stomp of bands such as DIRTY DOZEN BRASS BAND.

At their most ballady, this blues squad visit the “Celtic soul” realm of early-1970s Van Morrison albums on “Blue Lullaby,” yet even this type of slow-burning blues does fit splendidly into the band’s sonic palette. In fact, the next two tracks, “Taking the Good With the Bad” and “Whatever Price” tread somewhat similar sonic terrains with ease. The bluesy lyrics resonate with the stream-of-consciousness air of, say, Morrison‘s breakthrough 1968 solo album “Astral Weeks,” even. The peak performance in the vein of this sort of blues comes in the form of the track, “Time.” It sure does attain the kind of smooth transcendence similar to those revered vintage classics of “Van the Man.” The Moog ornaments in the song also add a particularly nice touch.

The only track that I found maybe a little less overwhelming, “Something To Hold On To,” sounds like a casual campfire number, played solo with an acoustic guitar. This minor blemish will not be long mourned over though. After the honky-tonk boogie of “Hoodoo Lover,” the last two tracks make a beautiful home run: first, “Headed For the Stars” resonates with the delicious air of clavinet-funky southern rock, not entirely different from some of those vintage ZZ TOP classics. Then, the journey comes to a close with the haunting, acoustic soundscapes of “Heart Crash,” nodding slightly towards some of those hipster-indie bands, such as the Finnish country-and-electronica posse, HUSKY RESCUE, minus the female vocals. I definitely did not see this coming on a blues album! Who would have thought that one of the most striking blues efforts this year comes from Denmark? Mascot Label has consistently released magnificent blues albums throughout the year so far. However, I would like to assume, even though there are still quite a few months to go before this year’s releases will be all wrapped up, that this one is going to rank up exceptionally well at the end of the year!

Written by Jani Lehtinen

Tracklist

  1. Navigation Blues
  2. Watch the Sun Go Down
  3. The Way You Make Me Feel
  4. Fire Inside
  5. Blue Lullaby
  6. Taking the Good With the Bad
  7. Whatever Price
  8. Time
  9. Something to Hold on to
  10. Hoodoo Lover
  11. Headed For the Stars
  12. Heart Crash

Lineup

Thorbjørn Risager – vocals, guitars

Emil Balsgaard – piano, organ, Wurlitzer, clavinet, Farfisa

Joachim Svensmark – guitars, synthesizer, piano, viola, drums, percussion

Kasper Wagner – alto, tenor & baritone saxophones, flute, clarinet

Hans Nybo – tenor sax, bass clarinet

Peter W. Keh – trumpet, flugelhorn, trombone, percussion

Søren Bøjgaard – bass, Moog bass, baritone guitar, synthesizer, piano, percussion

Martin Seidelin – drums, percussion

Label

Provogue/Mascot Label Group

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