‘Blue Sisters’ is this year’s title for the RUF Records Blues Caravan Tour that rolled into Bonn on Sunday. Following on from last years ‘Guitars with Guitars’ though perhaps ‘Maidens with Microphones’ would have been more in keeping?. Certainly there was Blues in the music, but none of these girls was playing it Bessie Smith style. Texan girl Tasha Taylor had the roots of her Soul star father Johnnie’s sound to draw on, Finland’s Ina Forsman made more than a passing nod to Reggae in her set and Layla Zoe’s closer was clearly tilted firmly in a Rock direction.
“Where the Blues crosses over” is how RUF Records describes itself. This time around it crossed over at the Harmonie on Valentine’s day, and what better day to enjoy the company of three pretty girls? Judging by the ever increasing crowd of men and cameras around the stage in the half hour before showtime I was clearly not alone with such thoughts.
Since it started in 2005 the Caravan seems to have evolved a life of its own outside of the music that fills it – rather like Rockpalast it has become a symbol of something you can depend on without knowing the contents at all, and that of course is down to Mr Thomas Ruf himself who seems to unerringly every January put three people together (or six counting the backing band) who never fail to deliver on a promise of good music played with enthusiasm, skill and, in recent years, just a little tongue-in-cheek sexism perhaps. It was clear from the early video release of Taylor, Forsman and Zoe strutting sexily along to ‘Aretha’s ‘Chain of Fools’ that the sexy part was not going to be missing this year – but what about the good music and enthusiasm? Read on…
The old Caravan format of each act playing a set alone before finally all coming onstage for a grand finale has evolved a little in that all three ladies kick things off – not surprisingly with the aforementioned theme song ‘Chain of Fools’. As always on the Caravan Bonn is one of the early shows of a long world tour but already the ladies are bouncing harmonies off of each other like a gospel choir that’s been preaching for years instead of weeks. Getting everybody onstage straight away ensures too that no one’s fans are hanging around the bar and to each girl’s credit there is no danger of anyone deserting the stage front out of boredom for the next couple of hours.
I was particularly looking forward to hearing and seeing Ina Forsman’s performance this evening. If you’ve read my rave review of her debut RUF release then you will know I had high expectations – and they were not disappointed. I knew from the disc that she had the voice. Onstage she also managed to exude a style all her own, which isn’t to be taken for granted in a young singer. With a leopard peering out from her jaunty headscarf that was more reminiscent of Audrey Hepburn than Big Mama Thornton and those heavily mascaraed eyelashes that reminded, as her voice so often did, of Amy Winehouse. There’s a Monroe style pout to Ina Forsman’s lips and oh boy, imagine Forsman delivering ‘Bubbly Kisses’ instead of ‘Happy Birthday Mr President’ to JFK. All in all it’s a youthful retro look that combines to make an identity that is uniquely Ina Forsman. Oh, and she has a voice to die for – by the mesmerizing ‘Queen Bee’ at the very latest.
Tasha Taylor has a lot to do if she’s going to keep our attention…
Taylor doesn’t look to be nervous at the prospect though. Maybe it’s the actress in her that hides the challenge she must be feeling? Dr House aficionados might vaguely feel a sense of recognition – Taylor was a young mother in Season three unlucky enough to face the cantankerous good doctor on one of his hated in-patient mornings. After that, a Harmonie audience should be a cakewalk. She certainly has everyone’s attention visually, wearing a dress that’s straight out of the Samantha Fish wardrobe where hemlines are concerned. It takes Taylor only a few minutes though, and her voice has us all forgetting the length of her dress – well almost. The latest CD is full of sweet Soul but seems to my ears a bit light, so it’s great to discover that live it seems to have far more timbre and be at least three times as powerful as on disc. I thought things were supposed to be the other way around?
‘Wedding Bells’ is just the thing for Valentine’s day, and I like the tongue in cheek lyrics of ‘Weatherman‘: “Before the sun comes up, he’s knockin at my door. If I’m partly cloudy, my baby knows the score”. It’s an evening of pleasant musical surprises and one of them is hearing an excellent rendition of ‘Valerie’ that doesn’t come from the expected source of Ina Forsman but instead from Tasha Taylor. It’s also a pleasant surprise to see Taylor is not only a Blues Sister but also a ‘girl with a guitar’ this evening as she hugs a jet black Gibson SG for a couple of numbers. Not the best guitar for weight or comfort when you’re a young girl in a cotton dress and It’s not there to challenge Davide Floreno. The Erja Lyytinen axeman doesn’t get a break from his excellently delivered backing duties. Words of praise also to drummer Markku Reinkainen, again from Erja’s band, and Walter Latuperissa from the Dana Fuchs band who rose admirably to the always challenging task of a Caravan band – that of keeping it tight behind three different artists every night.
So the band have been well up to backing Forsman’s Reggae infused Blues and Taylor’s Soul variations. How are they with Rock? It’s time for the Firegirl…
Layla Zoe needs no introduction to readers of this site of course and you all know I’m a huge fan. With two new faces to Germany on the bill it was a typically astute move of Thomas Ruf to add Layla to his record label and this tour in particular as a guarantee of quality in the territories around Europe that are familiar with her abilities.
Layla doesn’t so much step onto the stage as explode onto it. She’s pacing around, waving arms and smiling at such a rate that I’d swear she’s looked every audience member in the eye before the opening bars of her intro have faded. With several fine CD’s to her credit now Layla’s set has plenty of excellent material to draw upon and Rockers like ‘Singing my Blues’ and ‘Never met a man like you’ are always live crowd pleasers. The evenings most moving song though had to be ‘Sweet Angel’ dedicated to her friend Marsha Meidow who died tragically in 2010. It was one of two moving moments from the evenings set in fact. Before the concert I’d interviewed the girls and asked if Layla if she missed having her own band behind her for this tour. Recounting that question she said it had set her to thinking that what mattered was enjoying the company (and in her case musicianship) of whoever you were with at any one moment and playing the music for the people out there was what mattered. Loud applause of course.
Finally time to hear if the girls could play anything else together besides ‘Chain of Fools’ and, surprise, surprise, they very clearly could. Etta James’s ‘Down in the basement’ was a perfect fit of Soul/Blues for all concerned . My favourite of the joint effort numbers, ‘Honky Tonk Women’ that saw Mick Jagger split very ably (musically speaking I hasten to add) between Layla and Ina was a treat for all ears and just in case we were getting confident in guessing the musical style, a glorious chug-along ‘Come together’ got roars of approval. I suspect indeed that a good proportion of the audience will be coming together again to catch future shows by any of these girls when they hit town on their own. In all cases – the sooner the better!
***Interview with Ina Forsman, Tasha Taylor & Layla Zoe coming soon***