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|A Grip Ever Stronger
24 June 2008
Finland's Erja Lyytinen takes another step forward with her new album "Grip of the Blues". Her excellent tour band now gets to play on a record, too. The familiar pop ingredient is in the mix again.
There have been quite a few steps forward in Erja Lyytinen's musical career during the last couple of years. The Finn signed a deal with Ruf Records, took part in the label's Blues Caravan of 2006 with Englishmen Aynsley Lister and Ian Parker, and finally cut her first solo album for Ruf, "Dreamland Blues". For more than two years now, she has been touring internationally. Any lessons learned during these adventurous years? Find the answers on "Grip of the Blues".
|Gender should not be an argument, but a blues guitar-playing lady has attracted media attention even outside the actual music publications. Increased publicity is naturally a good thing for the blues. Ms Lyytinen is still inclined towards pop, occasionally though, but fortunately she manages to stay away from mainstream.
Thanks to the success of "Dreamland Blues", a lot is expected from its successor. Can Erja Lyytinen show some more progress? Oh yes she can – she has been able to tackle all dullness, one-sidedness, and above all, the new record does not try to duplicate what was done on its predecessor.
However, the basic structure bears some resemblance to "Dreamland". The album is opened by a bright, slide guitar-fuelled instrumental (Broadcast), from which the band cuts into a basic blues throb (Everything's Fine). There is the familiar dip into pop (Inner Beauty), and a reference to the Mississippi memories of "Dreamland Blues" (Voyager's Tale). "Wanna Get Closer", with its duplicated vocals and all, carries the cd's deepest soul feel. There are covers too: Tony Joe White's (Polk Salad Annie, As the Crow Flies) "Steamy Windows" and "Rollin' and Tumblin'", the 'obligatory' classic.
Title track "Grip of the Blues" is the one that most distinctively represents Ms Lyytinen's new material. There is plenty of groove to it, and the chord progression is pop-like in an attractive way. The wah-wah guitar sound adds to the song's atmospheric nature. This kind of guitar work, in wilder fashion though, can also be found on a clever "Let It Shine". The title track is kind of lightweight, but only on the surface; the listener is likely to catch the underlying, deep emotions after all.
Solid Input by the Band
Slide guitar is Erja's instrument of choice. Her playing is technique-rich, and it indicates the endless joy within. Lately she has improved as a singer, too, although she still does not have what it takes to be a blues shouter. She seems to know her limits; Ms Lyytinen only seldom tries to be something she isn't. It is brave to do "Steamy Windows", as she will be compared to top-notch singers like Tina Turner and Shemekia Copeland, who also have recorded the song.
Erja has written a bunch of fine songs again. The lyrics are not too catchy, but most original songs possess a lot of melodic and rhythmic sense. Maybe the album longs for a 'clincher', though.
Even Ms Lyytinen herself tends to talk about the album as one of her own. Nevertheless, the role of the band – which is familiar to many from her gigs and tours – cannot be underestimated. Davide Floreno (guitar), Iiro Kautto (bass) ja Rami Eskelinen (drums) play so well they make the brothers Kimbrough (Kinney and David played on Dreamland Blues) look like small-timers. The interplay of the three has been captured as it is – thanks to Floreno the Producer.
As far as the cover art is concerned, the band is a mere list of names, although the silhouette of drummer Eskelinen can be spotted in the blurry back cover shot. There is one thing that is for sure: Ms Lyytinen owes a great deal to her band – a group that is so trustworthy, skilful and unselfish.
Erja Lyytinen is so young a blues artist that her success will be measured by her progress for years to come. Her first albums "Attention!" (2002) and "Wildflower" (2003) were sympathetic pieces of work as such. Then again, her artistic development has been staggering since those days. "Grip of the Blues", her second Ruf cd, is another step, albeit not a great leap forward.
To take success for granted – not to mention letting it go to her head – would be the worst-case scenario right now. Ms Lyytinen has indeed remained sane: Erja proves on the album she is an ambitious artist, who does not underestimate the audience in any way. The blues path ahead is long. Erja Lyytinen knows it, and has prepared well for the journey.
Erja Lyytinen: Grip of the Blues. Ruf Records, 2008
Lyytinen (vocals, guitar), Davide Floreno (guitar), Iiro Kautto (bass), Rami Eskelinen (drums)
Guest: Harri Taittonen (keyboards)
Producer: Davide Floreno
Links: Erja Lyytinen website and MySpace, Review: Dreamland Blues