Reviews Zone

Thorbjørn Risager & The Black Tornado: Change My Game (Ruf Records)  Out Now



4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)



In a previous life, as a columnist on an international music magazine before launching Music Republic Magazine, and taking up the editor’s chair, I tipped this band for big things. Raved about the main man’s voice on their 2014 release, “Too Many Roads,” and have been quoted in their marketing material ever since.

The Danish eight-piece fronted by Thorbjorn Risager have now dropped 10 albums with their latest offering, and after the critical acclaim of their last album three years ago, it was never going to be easy to come up with something as dazzling as that award-winning gem. Well, did they? Ohh, let’s sustain the suspense a bit longer, shall we?

It has been 14 years since they formed, and all but two of the original members are still in the line-up. They have played more than 800 shows, (including 200+ festivals), in 21 countries including Canada and India. They have won a Danish Grammy equivalent two years in a row.

With the new record, the band decided to self-produce and mix the entire11 tracks themselves. They are Thorbjorn Risager lead vocals and guitar, Emil Balsgaard on piano and organ, Peter Skjerning on lead guitars, Kasper Wagner on tenor sax, Hans Nybo on sax and backing vocals, Peter Kehl trumpet and backing vocals, Soren Bojgaard on bass and drummer Martin Seidelin who also sings backing vocals.  All 11 songs penned by Thorbjorn Risager; two of which were co-written with Peter Skjerning.

So………It is a very strong album for sure. Thorbjorn’s gasoline and razor blades gargling vocal rasp is still a dominant force. But the material did not have the same impact on me as the stuff on the remarkable “Too Many Roads,” circa 36 months ago. That said; it is still an album where you can hear that the heart and soul of every last man is invested in it.  

Does it lack the steady hand of a producer? Would the album benefit from less cooks and just one chef? Could some of the arrangements do with a tweak? The voice smacked me around the face three years ago, and I said then; had this Great Dane “been around in the 50s and 60s and living in the USA, surely he’d be a legend by now!” It is still a strong vocal from Mr Risager. Most definitely. But some of the tracks do not provide him with the platform to really fly vocally, and maybe tie his hands somewhat.

Unusually, for a full-on, in your face band who deliver incendiary live shows, they open the album with a ballad; “I Used To Love You,” a slow blues meets 70s soul vibe. Rock-influenced “Dreamland,” written by Thorbjorn and Skjerning  is a hard-hitting affair with a decent groove, and a raunchy vocal. I liked the twin guitar section sat on greasy organ.

The album’s title, perhaps signals a change of direction since their previous albums, which sat on a core of old school RnB and groove. This album mixes it up a bit more and perhaps aims to take them out of the blues pigeon hole, and widen their scope and opportunities.

A standout for me is the rootsy, gospel-blues “Holler ‘n’ Moan,” co-written with Peter Skjerning.  Thjorbjorn at his best vocally and clearly in his comfort zone. Think Seasick Steve meets the sound track for the movie “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”, and the likes of “Man Of Constant Sorrow”. The country-flavoured “Hard Time” didn’t hold my attention, nor did “Long Gone”, and I think both songs could have done with an experienced producer’s ear in pre-production and arrangements. “Hold My Lover Tight” like a few others here, has a slightly muddy mix to it for my ears. The Stonesy “Maybe It’s Alright,” has a commercial appeal but again, production values dictated outside the band may well have been able to turn an OK cut into an epic.

The rootsy “Train,” has a really nice feel to it, building in intensity, lovely slide guitar from Peter Skjerning and another natural, relaxed vocal from Thorbjorn. “Lay My Burden Down” strips things right back, opening with melancholy horns and setting up the mood for a haunting, almost ‘film noir’ vibe. The closer “City Of Love,” kicks off with a ZZ Top dirty groove, then brings in grungy organ and distorted horns; a fairly infectious feel to it.  

They have certainly gone harder and rockier with this album. But for me, and probably for many who were blown away by the soul, funk, R&B and sheer power of that last album, I craved far more groove. Lots more soul. More ‘feel’ overall. I felt they moved too far away from their strengths, their USP, their core sound. Maybe this one is far more of a slow burner and needs a fair few spins before it grows on you. Or maybe it just doesn’t have the sheer instant “Wow” factor that the last one had in spades. They set the bar so damn high last time, they made a rod for their own backs, so to speak – one hell of a job to follow that!

But PLEASE be assured; this is still an excellent album and fully deserves the four stars I awarded it. Way above the quality of most blues and blues rock releases that drop on my mat these days. Nice to have a singer who can REALLY sing and a guitarist who doesn’t want to sound like Joe Bonamassa or Gary Moore! But please, next time chaps; bring back the groove…..


 By Simon Redley



1 out of 5 stars (1 / 5) ‘Dull Zone’
2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5) ‘OK Zone’
3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5) ‘Decent Zone’
4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5) ‘Super Zone’
5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5) ‘Awesome Zone’



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