Change My Game -Thorbjørn Risager & The Black Tornado (RUF 1240)

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This is a CD I fed into my player with some trepidation.  Thorbjørn Risager’s previous studio release ‘Too Many Roads’  was my favourite release of 2014.  It was a special moment indeed to be present at Bonn Harmonie and see the band receive a prestigious PdSK Award  for the disc, but of course it can only have racked up the expectations for it’s successor.      The following live release (again shot at Bonn Harmonie) suggested that either the band were taking their time getting a strong new set together – or they were out of ideas.  I’m very pleased (and relieved) to say it was very definitely a case of the former.  ‘Change my Game’  could indeed even rightfully be called ‘Up my Game’ as TR and his very capable band of Black Tornados deliver everything we loved about ‘Too Many Roads’ and a whole lot more besides.

When ‘Too Many Roads’ came out it was clearly the work of a band that had found the sound they were searching for during the often good but also inconsistent previous  releases  since their creation in 2003.  For the new release though they are clearly taking no chances on a new producer losing that sound and have elected to produce this one themselves, which proves overall to be a wise decision (although maybe there are moments, as in the close of ‘City of Love’ which seems to get a bit bogged down instrumentally, where an outside ear may have said stop!)  but by and large they put a pin on the musical map of where they want to go with each song and get there with confidence and in fine style.

Actually the travelling analogy is a fitting one.  Risager comes back to it constantly lyrically.  The actual means of travelling may alternate on ‘Change my Game’ but the protagonist, is a seasoned travellerOften as track nine’s title makes clear, it’s a train journey.  On the closing ‘City of Love’ we’re taking a riverboat ride.  Always travelling though, always looking for something new.

Risager and Co find it too.  Alongside the much loved and established raunchy slide steel guitar sound  (the always excellent Peter Skjerning) that’s present on numbers like ‘Dreamland’ and the aforementioned ‘Train’ there are also frequent nudges into other genres – the balladry of opener ‘I Used to love You’, The Eagles AOR sound of ‘Hard Time’, the driving rock of ‘Hold My Lover Tight’, the moody soul of ‘Long Gone’.  Only a band who know each other’s music inside out could put all of these disparate ideas together and produce a sound that is cohesively their own.  Praise be to all those gigs the length and breadth of Europe (yep, we’re still on a travelling theme!)

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Rocking Rockpalast last year at the Harmonie

An ace up the Tornado’s sleeve has always been their punchy brass section of course and it continues to fearlessly kick  ass where ass needs kicking,  thanks to Nybo, Wagner and Kehl.  New to the foreground of the mix though, to my ears at least,  is an increased influence from the keyboards of Emil Balsgaard.  The atmospherics of my favourite track ‘Long Gone’, the echoey tinkling drama of ‘Lay My Burden Down’ (leaning heavily on the previous releases ‘China Gate’), the swirling synthesizer malestrom on ‘Hold My Lover Tight’.  Not that Balsgaard wasn’t in the mix before, but he seems to have gotten a bigger chunk of the foreground action here.

Running seductively throughout though there is always the unmistakeable chocolatey rasp of Risager’s vocal.  In true Saville-Row style, tailormade to perfectly fit each song.  It rocks on top of up-tempo numbers and rolls effortlessly through the not infrequent quieter ones.

I remember momentarily at the Harmonie in 2015 seeing Risager sitting on a stool, taking a duet with Lisa Lystam, and suddenly  Frank Sinatra popped into my head.  It wasn’t just the choice of hat I’m sure.  In the days when song stylists like Sinatra and Bennett  ruled the charts and the hearts Risager may even have been in with a Top of the Pops shout on a number like ‘I Used to Love You’.  Although it makes for an odd choice of single release in 2016, it is nevertheless an indication of the breadth that is to be found in his vocals.

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Sinatra style at Bonn Harmonie with Lisa Lystam

There’s an old saying about life that it’s not about the destination, but about the journey we take to get there.  Given that the road seems to be Thorbjørn Risager’s biggest inspiration – “Had my fun, I’ll be moving on” he pronounces in ‘Change My Game’ – may he always be having that fun – but also always moving on to find new inspiration.  Especially if it provides music of the calibre on offer here.

Alongside  last year’s Deutsche Schallplattenkritik Award the band were recently listed as a top tip by the British Music Press.  If there’s any justice there should be more awards coming the way of the affable Dane and his rock-solid musical band of colleagues on the back of ‘Change My Game’

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