Thorbjørn Risager and The Black Tornado – Change My Game
11 tracks / 51:10
When hearing Thorbjørn Risager sing it is natural to assume that he is from the American Midwest, as his powerful voice cuts through the mix with just a touch of twang. But Denmark is his home, and for the past fourteen years he has been churning out soulful blues-rock with his band, The Black Tornado. These gentlemen have recently released their latest studio album, Change My Game, and it is their best work yet.
The stability of the lineup for Thorbjørn Risager & The Black Tornado is a rarity in the music business, as five of the eight members have been with the band since 2003. During their tenure they have released eleven albums and played over 800 live shows, so they have figured out how to do things the right way with a combination of well-crafted songs and good production values. Critics and fans agree, as the band was nominated for British Blues Awards in 2014 and 2015 and won Danish Grammy Awards in 2013 and 2014.
Change My Game was recorded at the Medley Studios in Copenhagen, Denmark in January and August of 2016. Risager took care of the vocals and guitar, backed by The Black Tornado band that includes Peter Skjerning on guitar, Emil Balsgaard on keyboards, Søren Bøjgaard on bass, and Martin Seidelin on the drums; there is also the horn section of Hans Nybo, Kasper Wagner, and Peter Kehl. The band self-produced this album (a first for them), allowing them to achieve exactly the sound they were seeking. It includes eleven tracks, and all of them are originals that were written by Risager and Skjerning.
The set list includes a bit of everything in the blues spectrum, including blues-rock, soul, funk, and rhythm and blues; the latter is the basis of the first track, “I Used to Love You.” Slow jams like this show off Risager’s astounding voice that is undeniably smooth and strong, and demonstrate his range that extends from baritone to a growly tenor. This song of remembrance features soft horns and a guitar solo that is simple yet very effective. Another standout ballad is “Lay My Burden Down,” which is delivered in a maudlin lyrical style with piano accompaniment, and there is a lovely build to the finish as the horns join in.
Don’t get the idea that Change My Game is full of slow-paced ballads, as hard-blues rock is a specialty of this crew. “Dreamland” is sequenced early in the album, and it has a huge sound with distorted guitars, Hammond organ, and a stellar horn arrangement. There is also “Hold My Lover Tight” with its driving beat and creative use of synthesizers and guitars. This song features an awesome guitar solo that is not over-the-top crazy, but it is powerful and perfectly in sync with the rest of the instruments. But the sweetest jam is “Train,” which starts out with an acoustic intro and a decidedly different rhythm pattern. At first there is a folk feel with honky-tonk piano, but momentum grows as the full band comes in, and it finishes with a minute of electric hardcore insanity.
The band also does a respectable job with funk and soul, as shown by “Maybe It’s Alright” and “Change My Game.” This title track is catchy with its funkadelic intro and synthesizers, and the chorus draws the listeners in with its harmonies, but the smooth horns and tight backline really complete the package. The bass and drums of Bøjgaard and Seidelin are perfectly in sync, and are almost hypnotic. These two songs are an interesting contrast to “Holler n Moan,” a Delta influenced swamp tune that ends up as a funeral dirge party towards the end. This message here is that the band is able to play most anything, and the songs are slickly written and arranged so that they all work well together, even as they span multiple genres.
After the band spends the first ten songs proving that they have mastered many elements of American music, they cut loose and have some fun by ending the album with “City of Love.” This is a hard-rocking blues tune that goes all out with powerful vocal harmonies on the chorus, a cool blend of acoustic and distorted electric guitars, and one last dose of the super-tight horn section. Everybody gets a chance to shine on this track, with props going out to Balsgaard’s killer work on the organ, and Risager’s (or is that Skjerning’s?) searing lead guitar.
With Change My Game, Thorbjørn Risager & the Black Tornado have met the challenge of living up to their excellent 2014 breakthrough release, Too Many Roads. This is a fresh take on modern blues, and the band has really created something different with their blend of blues, soul, and rock – indeed, they have changed their game. Looking at their tour plans for the rest of 2017, it looks like they are only playing European shows, but hopefully there will be enough demand to get them over to the states soon. While you are waiting, be sure to check out this new release, as it is dynamite!
Reviewer Rex Bartholomew is a Los Angeles-based writer and musician; his blog can be found at rexbass.blogspot.com.