By now, even first time blues listeners are aware that the music we love has shifted from its roots in the Mississippi Delta and gone all over the world. It’s not just confined to a few juke joints, nightclubs, and festivals – it has become a global phenomenon with major acts in the Far East, Australia, Africa, Europe, and South America.
On one of the earliest shows of Time For The Blues, we featured a band from Sweden, and now it is my pleasure to discover a great Finnish band, Micke Bjorklof and Blue Strip as they have just released their sixth album, AIN’T BAD YET.
Believe me, they ain’t bad…I mean aren’t bad, either.
For this album, they have teamed up with legendary producer John Porter (no, not me – he’s the one with talent!) to create a solid blues sound that drives with power like a runaway train barreling down the tracks.
The five-piece band consists of Micke Bjorklof Lead vocals / Harmonica / Electric Guitar; Lefty Leppänen Electric- and Slide Guitars & Backing Vocals; Teemu Vuorela Drums; Seppo Nuolikoski Bass/ Backing vocals; and Timo Roiko-Jokela Percussion / MalletKat.
Last Train To Memphis starts us off on this musical journey and how can you go wrong with both the words “train” and “Memphis” in the title? It paints a picture of a magical musical city and within a couple of bars I was hooked. I wasn’t sure what to expect before, but now they have set the bar pretty high.
They segue into a slightly slower number, Troublemaker, with a strong bassline and vocals. This one has a real strong Southern feel to it with some nice National Steel work. It’s a good song.
There is a lot of power in Rain In Jerusalem, dealing with current events and the song has a spare feeling at first, building into a harder driving rhythm that pulls you into the madness. Once again, blues moves a little forward, showing that modern issues can be represented within the medium.
But then to show that not everything has to deal with serious matters, Get Ya In Da Mood, is a fun jaunty number. It’s kind of ironic that a band from Finland sings about how they “don’t like the cold” and want that “Southern sun” to heat things up. Yeah, these boys would feel right at home here in the South. There’s even a little reggae feel to the song, especially from Bob Marley’s Natural Mystic. Nice.
We’re back into more of a Chicago feel with Hold Your Fire Baby, a straight mix of guitar and harp with some solid drum licks that would be right at home at just about any juke joint on the South Side. The vocals have kind of an old school feel to them, like it’s coming from a different era.
The title track, It Ain’t Bad Yet, is a slow number with some of Leppänen’s most evocative work. There’s quiet optimism but acknowledgement that things could go sour. Just remember “There will be light in the dark.” There’s a lot of power in this song.
The band picks up the pace with Rat Chase, with Bjorklof’s harp getting a workout. This is a great subject for a blues number as the singer is out looking for the rat that has been running around his house.
They slow things down just a smidge with Sweet Dream’s a Sweet Dream. This is a lovely number with some rock undertones. I like this one a lot – it’s quiet and has the feel of one languidly waking up to the aftereffects of a nice dream of someone you love.
These guys may be Finnish, but they definitely have some Southern roots. Today would be right at home anywhere below the Mason-Dixon line with Leppänen’s guitar leading the way. This is a great song and features some guitar work by producer John Porter.
Blame It On The Bright Lights is another swamp fused number that rocks. I can only think this would be one of those numbers that gets an audience on its collective feet quickly.
Bjorklof and Company ends the album with In Chains, a slow number that evokes the work songs that Lomax recorded all those years ago. Its power is palpable and the lonely harp just punctuates the pain.
If you are looking to catch Micke Bjorklof and Blue Strip live in the near future, you might need a plane ticket and a passport as they are concentrating on appearances in their native Finland. But there is always hope that they might venture out to Europe (and hopefully the United States) soon.
In the meantime you can catch up on their previous five albums and find out about the band’s exploits at http://www.bluestrip.net/en/.