Germany’s first real taste of ‘The Finnish Bonnie Raitt’ came with her appearance on the 2007 Blues Caravan. It brought a lot of praise, particularly for the girl’s undeniable slide guitar talents, but also a lot of expectation. In ‘Forbidden Fruit’, Erja Lyttinen’s fourth studio album for RUF, there is certainly a depth both lyrically and musically that leaps out from the earlier discs.
They say you can’t judge a book by its cover, and thankfully that’s also true of a CD. I remember a short conversation when Erja was last in Bonn, – Concert Review here – over the theme of sexual exploitation that revolved around the famed ‘naked’ Ana Popovic ‘Unconditional’ CD cover and the sale of tangas at Erja’s gig with her logo on them. The new Lyytinen CD has her depicted kneeling on a red duvet cover, in front of a red wall, and wearing red high heels. The ‘fruit’ alluded to in the picture looks anything but forbidden., and, given the cover shot, ‘Press My Button’ would have made a more fitting title track. No, the cover isn’t my thing at all. The photo-shoot was an all female affair though – and since the average listener is likely to be middle aged and male, I guess it won’t harm CD sales at all. If you’ve been to a Lyytinen gig you’ll know anyway that the (not surprisingly red) guitar in Erja’s hand is more than just a prop – and if you haven’t been to a gig then it won’t take more than a few licks from the music on offer to convince you she can play it very well indeed.
Opener ‘Joyful Misery’ immediately shows the depth of feeling, both musically and lyrically, that the new CD offers. It’s a pop/folk construction musically and nods towards Blues only in it’s title. A tender love song –about man & wife, but with the twist that it’s about Erja’s Uncle and Aunt; and the love alluded to is for relatives who themselves not only loved, but were loved. Along with the tender lyrics there’s some equally tender tremolo guitar courtesy of Erja’s right hand man Davide Floreno.
Erja’s Aunt and Uncle were clearly two people who lived the title of track two: ‘Hold on Together’ and the band too have to hold on together initially until the track finds it’s rhythm. Not that there is any problem with a tried and battle tested rythm section like bassist Roger Innis and drummer Miri Miettinen.
Track three, ‘At Least We Still Fight’ is a silky smooth song about a bumpy relationship waiting only for indifference to set in. Like ‘Joyful Misery’ it’s co-written with American Alan Darby and lyrically more compact than the solo writing efforts of Erja (‘Forbidden Fruit’, ‘Hold on Together’), or Erja with Davide Floreno (‘Change of Season’). I won’t count ‘Jealousy’ in there since it’s lyrically wrapped around the slide riff that Erja is so brilliant at creating. I do wish that she had checked with a native English speaker for the pronunciation of the word ‘fruit’ though – I find my teeth gritting at her every chorus of “forbidden freut in the tree”. That apart, there is a lot to like in quirky lines like “I’m in the taste of the butter, on the bread you put in your mouth” (from ‘Change of Season’) and “A flower in blossom attracts all kinds of bees” (from ‘Forbidden Fruit’)
Some very thoughtful and evocative material is on display then, but if you just came to hear Blues you’re more than catered for too. The aforementioned Alan Darby has written for a certain Miss Bonnie Raitt, so he knows a thing or two about ladies and slide guitar. Erja may be just starting to come of age where lyric writing and vocal phrasing are concerned but she has been up there with the best slide guitarists for a while now, and proves it once again with some fine work on this disc, particularly on the Son House classic ‘Death Letter’ and the tongue in cheek ‘Press My Button’ courtesy of Lil Johnson (whose other hits included such sober titles as ‘Get em from the Peanut Man -Hot Nuts’) and ‘Anybody want to buy my Cabbage?’) When Erja plays slide like only she can, who cares what the lyrics are though?
The new CD shows that Erja Lyytinen is developing into a whole lot more than just Bonnie Raitt with a Finnish accent. That burning slide sound still sends shivers down the spine of course, but there’s also a promise shimmering away in the lyrics and melodies that makes me wait already with keen interest for the next release from this talented lady.