Asked what Elmore James would have made of her homage to him, Erja Lyytinen is quite candid: “I guess he would probably wonder why a white woman…from Santa Claus Country of all places, would love to play and sing his songs” she says. Clearly Erja herself enjoyed the experience of ‘her new CD. Will we enjoy it too though?
From the opening volley of ‘Person to Person’ it’s clear no one is going to hear this disc and think it’s actually Elmore James. That’s no bad thing of course. Erja herself admits she worked hard to copy down Elmore’s slide work and presumably it was clear that the white woman from Father Christmas Country would sound different by nature anyway – which is absolutely correct and good. These are the plain old Blues though and Erja’s sound is not by nature a rough one. She tries to dirty things up a little by shouting “Get you’re a*s outta here, jerk” but her voice throughout the song is too clean, too polished and too, well, white female. It’s really the Achilles heel of an otherwise excellent disc.
The songs cry out for a rough and ready vocal that Erja is obviously not going to deliver but she can deliver a mouthwatering counterbalance to that shortcoming though of course – you guessed – the slide playing is to die for. Well, with the exception of ‘Baby Please Set A Date’ where it it sounds more like a Hawaiian guitar. That’s a matter of taste of course and even then there’s some super piano tinkling by Harri Taittonen to enjoy give the ears a treat.
‘It Hurts Me Too’ runs close to the original musically showing that Roger Innis and Miri Mietinnen , both excellent musicians technically, can also play it simple. Erja too really shines with her playing here, and rather like a live concert it seems as if the band has needed a couple of numbers to really warm up. It’s a song that has proved popular at Erja’s live shows so it should be well played in of course. Certainly a highlight.
‘Erja’s Contribution to Jazz’ is also a number that goes down well live although I find the Samba beat in the Background a bit distracting. ‘The Sky is Crying’ is probably Elmore’s finest moment and on this CD it’s Erja’s too. Her slide shimmers so much on this number that it almost glows back out of the CD player. It’s a sad romantic number that doesn’t call for a gritty approach and for that reason (and for the horns that push it along gently) it really is a standout track.
‘Got to Move’ raises another challenge from Elmore’s original. He’s berating his woman: “You won’t cook, you won’t sew…You won’t even scrub the floor” In Erja’s take on this traditional bit of partnership friction though the man should “cook and ‘fix’ the floor” but sewing is seemingly a bridge too far. I’m sure quite a few men learned this in the Army Erja – blatant sexism! Seriously though, Whilst it’s not known whether Roger Innis can sew on a button,it is known that he can, and does, sew some excellent bass lines into the fabric of this number.
‘King of the Slide Guitar’ is Erja’s own composition about the Man himself and if the backing vox on the chorus plus the Bo Diddley beat make it more on the pop side than I would like, but there is again some super slide work that even sounds like a sitar at times that obviously from the heart.
‘Sho Nuff’ has a very 60’s sound to it and a welcome break from the slide that, despite it being Erja’s forte, was in danger of being too much of a good thing. The reappearance of a bottleneck on Erja’s finger for ‘Something Inside Me’ is all the more welcome for the small break, and there’s even some super sax too.
‘Hand in Hand’ and the inevitable ‘Dust My Broom’ are straight out walking blues numbers. No frills, just a beat , a slide, and Erja’s vocal of course. Again, as if she’s trying to rough up the song in compensation of a rough voice she throws in a ‘bastard!’ at the close of the former.
The latter track is live and seems both more urgent and uptempo. It also has a bit more vocal grit and an extended non slide solo by David Floreno who hasn’t really had much chance to shine on the studio tracks of what is after all a showcase for Erja’s slide playing. Maybe that’s why he gets so much time on the disc here. It’s well spent time too, and the whole track is a highlight that suggests a little more grit and pace would have made what is undoubtedly a good and enjoyable album into an even better one.
After the last rather too poppy effort by Erja this is a welcome return to grass roots then and given the extra drive on the live track presented here will make for some excellent live shows. Nothing down Bonn way yet but it will be worth keeping an eye out for the chance to hear that shimmering slide again up close and personal.