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Finnish-American Quality

10 January 2008

"Keep It Moving" is the new album by Steve Guyger and the Finnish T. Leino Band. The line-up sounds awesome live but the cd somewhat suffers from light-weight production.

The album "Keep It Moving" by
Steve Guyger and the Finnish T. Leino Band provides a hefty 12-track portion of Chicago Blues. Five of the tracks are originals by Guyger. On the others, the line-up offers its interpretations on classics by e.g. Little Walter and the both Sonny Boy Williamsons. Guyger, a harpist and singer from Philadelphia, toured Finland with a local band in the latter parts of the years 2005 - 2007. The songs of the new album were recorded in Helsinki and Tampere during the first two Finnish trips.
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In 2005, the festival crowd at Vaasa's Halloween Blues made the group play somewhat harder, but especially on the other two occasions it has been a real pleasure to listen to their sound – a sound that is no less than refined. Late 2007 also included a mini-tour of Russia.

As a singer, Steve Guyger is definitely not a shouter. His voice, instead, conveys a touch of roughness and loads of warmth. So it is a slight disappointment to notice that the new album seldom compares to the effect of his live performances. For example, the Sonny Boy Williamson II cover "Red Hot Kisses" introduces a Guyger that pushes his way through in a constrained manner. Better moments are evident, though: Guyger's own "My Baby's Gone" and "Come, Come Back Baby" bring the singer so close to the listener. Let's concentrate on our strengths, so we'll stay on top of our game, as a hockey coach would probably put it.

Kari Karpo's double bass is always a pleasing experience at the band's gigs. They usually play on low volumes; so low that you can hear the fingers meet the strings, and at the right times, the strings hit the fretboard in true slappin' style. It is another letdown here: on the cd, the bass does not get the credit it deserves.

On the other hand, Tomi Leino's semi-hollow guitar appears at its untiring and endlessly innovative best. It sounds as good as it does live. There is no real soloing, however; and there should not be, because "Keep It Moving" is first and foremost a harmonica album. Guyger's harp work is full of tones and rich on technique.
Jarkko Lepistö and Jupe Litmanen, then again, have obviously absorbed the essence of Chicago style drumming.

The album seems to be tackling an eternal problem: how to catch the feel and the sound of live performances on record? A bigger investment in production would surely have helped this cd to overcome the problem. The first-class musicians of the album are hardly the ones to blame for the light-weight production; the reasons for the low number of professionally produced blues albums in Finland are somewhere else. 

Blues legend
Eddie Boyd moved to Finland in the early 70's and cut the album "Praise to Helsinki"; Guyger and the Leino Band are no worse with their Guyger-written Finnish-influenced instrumentals "Mumbo in Helsinki" and "Jumpin' at Sauna". Finnish blues history does not get rewritten with "Keep It Moving", but the album surely adds a few interesting chapters to it.


Steve Guyger & T. Leino Band: Keep It Moving. Harp-o-Phone Records, 2007

Guyger (vocals, harmonica), Tomi Leino (guitar), Kari Karpo (bass), Jarkko Lepistö (drums), Jupe Litmanen (drums)

Steve Guyger, T. Leino, Harp-o-Phone Records