Artist: Thorbjørn Risager & The Black Tornado
Album: Change My Game
Release Date: 02/17/2017
Danish vocalist/guitarist Thorbjørn Risager’s octet might be the quintessential example of the Ruf Records theme, “Where the Blues Crosses Over.” This band continues, as the title says, to break down genre barriers, delivering soul, country rock, keening ballads, and horn-driven blues rock fronted by the full-bodied, often electrifying vocals of Risager. Depending on your source, this is either their tenth or eleventh album, the first two of which were with a seven-piece band. It’s the third release for Ruf with the current Black Tornado lineup, which features a three piece horn section. The band has been playing for fourteen years and all but two of the original players are still in the lineup. The band has earned Danish Grammys two years in a row and by now have played over 800 shows in 21 countries. [Note: enough stats for you?] Yes, I’ve heard them before; mostly on the acclaimed 2014 release Too Many Roads but the stellar musicianship and the variety of material here made me take even more notice.
The musicians took matters into their own hands, deciding to self-produce and mix the album. Beginning with the ballad, “I Used to Love You,” you’re introduced to Risager’s deep, resonant voice and his rather economical guitar soloing as the full band displays their big sound toward the end of the song. The pounding “Dreamland” is receiving the most airplay and is followed by the title track and “Holler n’ Moan,” the three song sequence which exemplifies the band’s signature horn-driven blues-rock sound. “Hard Time,” with its acoustic opening and female harmony vocals, leans more toward country rock while three background vocalists join the band for the R&B flavored “Maybe It’s Alright.” “Train” is the most straight forward blues track, beginning with train sounds and an acoustic guitar riff before the band brings it to a thunderous conclusion. Perhaps the most interesting tune is “Lay My Burden Down,” a slow, mournful dirge that brings out the emotive qualities of Risager’s voice. Here he sounds almost like a jazz ballad singer in the mode of Johnny Hartman.
Give Risager and his band a listen. They have plenty to draw from. I’m pretty sure you’ll latch on to some, if not all of it. It gets better with repeat listens.