It’s rare, but every so often concerts come along with two musicians whom I would happily go see either one in a separate show. Value for Money is how the marketers would label it. Two for the price of one. It was bitter cold outside, but the prospect of catching two of the very best Finnish Blues girls in one show was enough to head for Bonn Harmonie. The hot slide guitar skills of Erja Lyytinen and Ina Forsman’s warm silky vocals would, I hoped, be enough to defrost my fingertips. Hot Blues on a cold night…
If you caught 2016’s Blues Caravan then you will know that Ina Forsman has a charisma all her own onstage. There’s something of the streetwise teenager who’s seen it all and learned to deal with it. “Just watching the traffic and drinking my beer” as the lyric goes in ‘Hanging Loose’ Very often the ‘it’ is the presence of a man in her life who she has let in to her heart only to have it broken or a man who wants to win her heart but she doesn’t want to know. The former as evidenced on ‘No room for love’, the latter as ‘Why you gotta be that way?’. She’s totally at ease with her introductions to the songs and their inspirations.
Musically there’s no denying the Amy Winehouse influence. I like too the rap style she also manages so well. Before coming onstage Forsman seeks to put a white rose in her hair. The rose has to settle with a place on her jacket, but it’s presence was a nod to the famous white Gardenias worn by Billie Holiday. I was disappointed not to hear the Monroe charm of ‘Bubbly Kisses’ or ‘Sugar in my Bowl’ but there were tantalizing glimpses of the coming Forsman disc, especially ‘Figure’ a smoky ballad (about love of course!). I cmanaged a few words with Ina after the show and she’s heading out to Texas soon to record with producer Mark Kazanov and the band that did a fine job on her debut disc for RUF. Especially good to hear that the wonderful Laura Chavez is chalked in for guitar duties because if something was missing this evening it was a bit of guitar to add bite. Understandable, since the band was ‘borrowed’ from Erja Lyytinen and Erja no longer has the guitar of David Floreno onstage, preferring to cover the instrument totally alone.
I enjoyed Ina Forsman’s set two years ago on Blues Caravan but she really has gained in stage presence and even in vocal power since then. So much so that I can’t wait to hear that upcoming CD. Please Thomas Ruf, put it out as soon as possible – this girl is sounding great right now and deserves to shift some CD’s. Most of the audience already has the last one – the next promises to be dynamite!
I was lucky to get a short interview with Erja Lyytinen before tonight’s show so I had the chance to apologize for not getting to her shows for several years now. The last was with Meena Cryle in 2011. There have been some major changes in the intervening years, not the least motherhood. The band has also changed in members and format but it’s a unit that’s tight when it needs to be whilst managing to stay loose when Erja wants to experiment – a wonderful blues jam incorporating the styles of Mississippi John Hurt and Robert Johnson has everyone onstage on edge looking for the tempo changes.
No David Floreno as mentioned before. The guitar sound is then pure Erja. That’s a good thing in that she really is a fantastic slide player. This evening though I have to say that it’s her hard rock playing that most impresses. “I must have the best job in the world” she exclaims with a grin. “I get to play the guitar – loudly!”. Who would have thought I would be writing about an Erja Lyytinen track that had me thinking of The Who? ‘Rocking Chair’ though does have that low down, mean and dirty riffing to be found in the repertoire of one Pete Townsend. Clearly the Lady loves to shred – “Hendrix is always fun to play” she says after a high octane take of ‘Crosstown Traffic’.
Don’t worry though, there is still plenty of Blues embedded in the Rock of Erja’s shows in 2018. Lyytinen celebrates female Blues in style with Koko Taylor’s ‘I’m a Woman’ and of course no show would be complete without ‘Steamy Windows’. Nine out of ten for Erja’s show this evening though. A point docked for the odd placement of her Fender amp at the stage side near bassman Tatu Back which made the music – at least from my position near the stagefront centre – seem somehow unassociated with the girl making the sound coming from it.
After what proved to be far more of a rock concert than I had expected there was a nice and calming surprise to finish as the band took it down a notch and, in a nod to it being Sunday, treated us to some first class Gospel in the shape of Curtis Mayfield’s ‘People Get Ready’. Kasperi Kallio took full advantage of the ambience and mood to deliver a gorgeous solo on electric organ. Icing on the cake would have been to hear Ina Forsman join Erja and get the full benefit of Finland’s best female vocalist and slide guitar player together. If that should happen I hope someone has the good sense to record it.
Ignore the videos currently circulating of Erja Lyytinen singing the likes of ‘Stand By Your Man’ with a chocolate box coloured set. This Lady is at heart a Blues player who just occasionally ROCKS! Thinking back to ‘Rocking Chair’ and what the hell. Let’s not be churlish: Five stars for effort = A Five Star Show indeed!
+++ ERJA LYYTINEN INTERVIEW COMING SOON+++