Mike Andersen made his musical entrance in 2002 with a disc entitled ‘My Love for the Blues’. In the succeeding fifteen years his love for the Blues has been matched by a love for Soulful vocals too. It’s made expectations at Andersen’s live shows problematic at times perhaps, but with his new release ‘Devil is Back’ and a great duet with Joss Stone, Andersen should find acceptance on a much wider audience level.
My first contact with Mike Andersen came when I met him briefly before a show at Cologne’s Yardclub. It was a half hour before show’s start and only a handful of people were in the hall – result of a relative unknown musician meets a major football evening on tv. It wasn’t a great crowd that evening but it was a great performance by the big Dane. The talent was undoubtedly there – only the profile was low. At the time Andersen was promoting the album ‘Home’ that was a Blues Award winner, but his music certainly wasn’t pure Blues. ‘Brand awareness’ might not be intrinsic to music but it is intrinsic to making a living out of music. Andersen is thankfully still very much out there though, and the good news is that this disc should get him the audiences that his music richly deserves, extending outside of the ‘Blues’ genre that all too easily strait-jackets listeners. “Hey, wanna hear the new Mike Andersen?”. “No thanks, not really a Blues fan myself…” Well, my advice, just be a Music fan then!
When you want to catch mass music attention it doesn’t hurt of course to have Joss Stone cutting a duet with you. The resulting delight, ‘This Time’ would, in days gone by, have been a good bet for the radio 1 playlist and a ‘pop pick’ on Top of the Pops. Nowadays the big hope is that it finds it’s way to the Spotify etc playlists of the many Joss Stone fans out there starved of new product – who will also discover the rich and soulful voice of Mr Andersen along the way. There’s a punchy brass sound courtesy of the Muscles Shoals Horns here too. If this was on a Joss Stone cd it would be a standout track. Have I sold it to you yet? Give it a listen and if you’ve come to this review as a Blues or Rock fan then give both Mike and Joss a listen; both have the Blues in their Soul(s).
‘Devil is Back’ is no one trick pony of a disc though. It’s very much a songwriters collection where the songs dictate the approach. Don’t come here if you’re looking for great, and long, six string solos or gargantuan bass riffs. There is some excellent guitar on here, check out ‘Wake up’ for instance, but it fits the song rather than fitting the song around it. Straight ahead music and straight ahead lyrics for a straight relationship problem on this one: “Wake up, we’re not done yet!”
Good news. The relationship can be saved, as track three declares through its title: “I will give it up for your love”. How could any woman resist those soulful pleas? It’s not an accident that Mike Andersen comes out of his earlier duet with Joss Stone so well – Andersen is himself a top class soul vocalist. That may be a problem for audiences expecting a bluesy guitar and 12 bars but here on disc it’s heaven.
‘Boyhood friends’ is also a love song of the kind all to seldom covered in music. We all have/had them, a friend who shared our hopes and dreams, sometimes even our girlfiends, which interestingly is the theme of ‘Here’s to You’. Maybe they are even more important than those early girlfriends? A fair trade in the long term? Andersen seems to think so: “Every time she went too far, I’d go to you… you can have my baby, I’m letting her go”
Which in a black humour way fits in rather nicely with‘Gonna get me a dog’ and it’s decision to give feline friends a miss and instead look for canine companionship: “Gonna get me a cute puppy dog. She’ll be waiting when I come home”. Notice the ‘she’ will be waiting. I suspect this song is not really about animal companions dear reader… ‘Barbed Wire’ in contrast has no time for word games or double meanings. It’s as cutting and straight as the title itself suggests; telling the pain of a broken relationship through the eyes and imagery of a musician: “My voice is weak, fingers bleed. Strings feel like barbed wire”.
Beautifully desolate, ‘Barbed Wire’ would be my favourite track on the disc except that somehow the title number edges it (literally). There’s an acoustic version of this that I dearly love (see end of article) and I’m not sure that the extra instrumentation adds anything to the cd version. It’s still spellbinding though, with a hauntingly desolate guitar and similarly haunting and desolate vocal performance. Given the rest of this disc it’s no surprise to hear that the Devil is a Woman: “Angel in blue – the devil is back”.
There is some uptempo music on ‘Devil is back’ too, check out ‘Pretty Fool’ with it’s Stones like ‘Ooh! ooh! ooh’s!’ powered like a freight train by Jens Kristian Dams drums, but overall this is a disc for lovers of soulful vocals and well crafted songs. My fear is that Soul fans won’t hear this cd because Andersen has a Blues pedigree now, and Blues fans won’t get what they expect from it. My hope on the other hand is that fans of both genres will find a musician who makes great music, writes great songs and deserves a big audience. Hopefully, when Mike comes back this way more people will record that football game/tv programme and come to the show. They will find it well worth their while. If you are in doubt, give the video below a listen and give ‘Devil is Back’ a place on your turntable/headphones/music player. You won’t regret it!