Erja Lyytinen – ‘Live In London’ Album Review

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On Erja Lyytinen’s ‘Live in London’, two legends come together for a very special live album that will have blues fans succumbing to the throes of ecstasy. On the one hand you have the astonishing Erja, Lyytinen, who’s been recording for over fifteen years and who has been nicknamed “the Finnish slide goddess” and on the other hand you have the 100 club, arguably the oldest music venue in the world with a proud tradition of supporting artists such as Muddy Waters, B.B. King, The Who, Rolling Stones and many, many more. The arrival of Erja in such a place seems to be a talismanic event because, as this CD/DVD set attests, she plays with a fire and fluidity that sees Erja set to stand shoulder to shoulder with the blues greats to whom she pays frequent tribute. Working alongside the top-notch band featuring Davide Floreno, bassist Roger Inniss and drummer Miri Miettinen, Erja puts on an unforgettable show which is perfectly captured in this stunning two disc set.

The album opens a Capella, with Erja showing off her wonderfully smoky voice on the short, beautiful ‘It’s a blessing’. It’s an astonishing performance which recalls Janis Joplin’s ‘pearl’ set whilst the guitar stabs recall the opening bars of Led Zeppelin’s ‘rock ‘n’ roll’. Things really kick into gear on the dirty blues of ‘Let it shine’ which is underpinned by the rolling thunder of Miri Miettinen’s drums. Immediately Erja draws the listener to her with her seductive voice and then, when she unleashes her slide work, you can see why she is one of the most revered slide guitarists on the planet. Taking her cue from the likes of Sonny Landreth, her slide work gives the guitar its own unique voice within the band and the result is breath taking from the off – it’s a wonderful one-two punch with which to open a concert and there’s no sign of let up when Erja launches into Elmore James’ ‘person to person’, the first of four Elmore tracks featured on the album. It says much of Erja’s indomitable spirit and exquisite ability that she both pays perfect tribute to the original whilst at the same time embodying it with her own spirit and the performance is electrifying. Another Elmore James track appears in the form of the brief, irresistible ‘Hand in hand’ which manages the trick of being both perfectly traditional and yet entirely fresh thanks to the sublime slide work that predominates. Things take a slightly funkier turn with the wah-inflected ‘grip of the blues’, an Erja original that shows that her song-writing abilities are at least the equal of her amazing musical talents and it’s a simple pleasure to relax into a piece of music that surrounds and caresses the listener with its deft touch and it says much that this live recording sounds far better than some bands’ studio work. Another Erja original appears next in the form of the beautifully understated ‘Change of season’, a slow-building number that highlights Erja’s versatility. One of those tracks that slowly works its way into the consciousness, it’s an extended piece that has a toe in both the blues and classic rock and the solo is just lovely.

Having slowed the pace, Erja gets things really cooking with the soulful, sassy ‘Everything’s fine’ which sees Roger Innis laying down a slinky bassline over which the band jam out some really cooking guitar work. Speaking of cooking guitar work, ‘Hold on together’ is the point at which the band move from smoking to full on incendiary with Erja’s fingers flashing over the fret-board. With an extended sing along that gets the audience involved (and the home audience wishing that they could be), ‘hold on together’ is, without a doubt, a soaring high point on an album that is already filled with sizzling moments. The work of Elmore James makes a return for ‘The sky is crying’, a stunning piece that opens as Erja makes her guitar gently weep with her astonishingly evocative slide work. Another Elmore James number that is kicked off with Erja’s distinctive tones is ‘it hurts me too’ and, again, the listener can only wonder at how Erja takes such iconic music and makes it her own without degrading the power of the original material. This last point is bought into particularly sharp relief when the album concludes with a wonderfully extended jam around the classic ‘dust my broom’, a fourteen minute epic that leaves the listener dizzied by the musicianship on display.

Like all the great blues artists, Erja is both a writer and a passionate player who has no qualms about paying tribute to the wonderful artists that have gone before. Her covers are respectful but without awe, allowing her to inhabit the song, stamping her own unique identity onto the piece whilst maintaining the integrity of the original. It is, quite simply, thrilling to hear and the live album passes in the blink of an eye, such is the love which she inspires in her audience. In a year of great blues releases (and there have been many, including albums from Ian Siegal, Dan Patlansky, Sonny Landreth and, of course, Joe Bonamassa) Erja still manages to shine thanks to her dusky vocal tones and amazing guitar work. Like the very best artists, she is an intuitive player and when she employs the slide her guitar truly sings to the listener. At its best the blues is one of the most compelling, life-affirming genres and Erja Lyytinen embodies that quality perfectly. This is an absolutely exceptional album, and the beautifully shot and intimate DVD is really only the icing on the cake – you can see a trailer of that below. If you consider yourself a blues fan… well, if you consider yourself a fan of music in general, really, then this is a nothing less than essential release.

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