Too Many Roads
CD Review by Todor Kenov
One doesn’t need a Master’s Degree in Music to safely state that Thorbjorn Risager and The Black Tornado is one of Denmark’s most successful music exports today. The band was formed by now 42-year old Risager back in 2003. Known for his distinctive powerful and gravelly voice he was first introduced to the blues by a neighbor and friend of his parents, a middle-aged gentleman who played him records by the likes of B. B. King and Ray Charles. Risager started playing the saxophone at the age of 12 and then moved on to guitar while the singing was more of a coincidence at first. By the time he went to high school he was already playing paid gigs.
Thorbjorn Risager studied to be a school teacher and even worked as such for several years. Later on he graduated from the Rhythmic Conservatory in Copenhagen, all the while composing songs, singing and playing with various local musicians. He started his own seven piece band in 2003, composing most of the band’s music himself. Mixing styles from blues, soul, gospel, rock and R&B to funk was his deliberate choice as was the distinctive sound of the band with its horns, individual solos and rolling, almost big-band like grooves.
The Thorbjorn Risager Band released its first album back in 2005 and toured extensively throughout Europe. As of 2013 the band has performed in no less than 17 countries and has released seven successful albums. In 2013 the band, with its name changed to Thorbjorn Risager and The Black Tornado, signed a record deal with Ruf Records, a Germany based label founded by Luther Allison’s manager, Thomas Ruf, placing Risager and company among the rows of other famous artists such as Royal Southern Brotherhood, Ana Popovic and Canned Heat.
The new album from Thorbjorn Risager and The Black Tornado, Too Many Roads, was released in March 2014. The album was recorded by Thorbjorn Risager – guitar and vocals, Peter Kehl – trumpet and background vocals, Kasper Wagner – saxophones, Martin Seidelin – drums and background vocals, Peter Skjerning – guitar and background vocals, Emil Blasgaard – keyboards and Soren Boigaard – bass. This time the band chose to self-produce the album.
So far Risager and his band mates have been famous mainly in Europe and the new album is their first attempt to bring their music to a non-European audience. The album comprises twelve songs melting together blues, rock, soul and more than a pinch of New Orleans sound. The general feeling is that of well controlled energy and tight interplay, all the arrangements being the result of teamwork. All in all, the listener gets the typical “Risager sound.”
The album opens with “If You Wanna Leave,” a dynamic rocker about being left by the one you love but being able to cope with this sad situation. As far as influences go, look no further than Bob Seger and his Silver Bullet Band. Another notable song is “Drowning,” which describes the devastating feeling after a break-up, where there’s simply nothing left but sorrow. The distinctive New Orleans vibe helps convey the general feeling of the song.
“Long Forgotten Track” is a ghost story, while the music is in the vein of the late great and sadly missed J. J. Cale. “Through The Years” is a song about a man looking back to a long lost love. It brings together B. B. King’s style of guitar playing and tone, paying tribute to one of Risager’s blues heroes as well as the soul music of the 60’s. “Rich Man” is a socially charged ode to the financial crisis and all those who are profiting from it. The song is characterized by a rich big-band sound. “Play On” closes the album by paying tribute to classic Jerry Lee Lewis style rockabilly.
All in all, Too Many Roads is an album that will appeal not only to blues aficionados, but also to the general music-loving public with its varied moods and styles and brilliant musicianship. Could the next blues sensation come from Denmark? We will live and see.
Meanwhile, you can preview, buy and download the album at Amazon and iTunes.