Think about the history of slide guitar players and Blind Willie McTell, Robert Johnson, Fred McDowell and Son House immediately come to mind. Think electric blues and you can trace a 50 year lineage from the death of the great Elmore James to Finland’s current Queen of the Slide Guitar Erja Lyytinen.
The Sky Is Crying is Erja’s timely homage to the great Mississippi slide guitarist. Erja has enjoyed her own ground breaking career as a contemporary blues artist, but on this her tenth album, she’s gone back to her blues roots and cut, in her own words; ‘a raw and down to earth blues album’. Co-produced with her guitarist and MD Davide Floreno and Mike Hightower, The Sky Is Crying showcases Erja incendiary playing and passionate vocals with her rock solid tour band, with the additional contributions of a superb horn section and special guests.
It’s rare for a blues artist to truly spark as Erja does with her weepy solo on It Hurt’s Me Too. She’s experienced enough to build a percussive groove on the slide led instrumental Erja’s Contribution To Jazz and adds a wonderful arrangement to the title track, bathing it in shimmering guitar and a deeply emotive vocal.
She’s also savvy enough to alter the lyrics of Got To Move, to reflect a female perspective, but then again she’s never been short of self-belief to match her undoubted talent, which explains her ability to shape an album of slide led covers to her own ends.
The only non-cover on the album is the aptly titled King of the Slide Guitar, which combines dobro dexterity and sprightly acoustic guitar with stellar rhythms and an evocative vocal to match her thoughtful lyrics. And lest we forget it, the album showcases the magisterial beauty of her playing, as she explores a wide range of tones, tempos and deep solos in her relentless pursuit of feel and the essence of Elmore James.
Born in Kuopio, a small town in central Finland, Erja was raised by a musically-orientated family on the sounds of Led Zeppelin, the Beatles and Deep Purple. She also listened to a lot of pop music, especially Madonna and Michael Jackson. By the age of 15 she was singing and playing the violin with her mother (a bassist) and father (who encouraged her to take up his own instrument – the electric guitar).
A 2010 graduate from the prestigious Helsinki Sibelius Academy, Erja signed her first record deal in 2001 and has been a professional gigging musician for a more than a decade.
Each successive album in her 10 album career has seen a growing emphasis on song writing and subtle arrangements - in this case mostly loyal to the originals- to match her mesmerizing playing. The Sky Is Crying distils the essence of her guitar playing in the context of a contemporary take on traditional blues.
Perhaps the biggest challenge facing any blues musician is to bring something new to the table and the fact that Erja manages to do that effortlessly while paying homage to the legacy of Elmore James, speaks volumes about her ability.
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