Erja Lyytinen, Blues Engine,
Tuesday 26th March
100 Club, London
European Blues Award winner Erja Lyytinen will release her brand-new studio album 'Another World' on Friday 26th April via Tuohi Records, and to coincide with this, the Finnish slide-guitarist stopped off at London's iconic 100 Club last Tuesday, as part of her 12-date UK tour, excellently supported by Cheri Lyn and Blues Engine For seventeen years, we’ve known her as the award-winning slide goddess whose heart-and-guts songs have shaken the Blues-Rock scene. This is an artist capable of flowing from the primal Blues of international debut 'Pilgrimage' (2005), to the orchestration of 'Voracious Love' (2010) and the soulful Elmore James tributes of 'The Sky Is Crying' (2014). But following the shattering breakup that fuelled 'Stolen Hearts' (2017), Lyytinen found herself tearing out the page and writing a brand new chapter.
Indeed, the flavour of this evening was female-fronted bands. First up was German born Cheri Lyn, with her modern Blues/Rock/Soul with her powerhouse vocals, plus her five-piece consisting of traditional guitar, bass, drums and two backing vocals. Cheri's bubbly personality was immediately infectious, although inviting the early arrivals in the crowd to clap and sing aloud to her second song was ambitious, but typical of her enjoyable set. The pounding drum plus the smiling faces of her backing singers went hand in hand on the aptly named single 'Sisters With Me', as was the beautifully constructed Blues of 'Caught In The Blues', her very first release, with Cheri Lyn's acoustic guitar complemented by a stand-out guitar solo. And on the theme of female singers, cue a great cover of one of the best ever, namely Janis Joplin's 'Piece Of My Heart', followed by her next slower track that ended with another excellent guitar duet. Following the catchy and very un-German 'Rules Are Meant To Be Broken', Cheri's two trusty backing vocalists left the stage, to be replaced by her Toxic Gold bandmate/vocalist Helen Hurd for a final rocker. So if you like traditional roots music together with contemporary, catchy and smokey sounds and distinctive and seductive powerhouse vocals, then why not get along and check out Toxic Gold at The Hope & Anchor, Islington, this Thursday 4th April?
In contrast, Blues Engine consisting of Katya Chernyakova (vocals), Alex Liutai (bass), Hamish Birchall (drums) and Alex Cooray (guitar) are a sound built on the traditional foundation of the old machinery of the Blues, but with Funk and Soul and Rock bolted on. Leaning on the famous 100 Club halfway pillar, they were a joy to behold as we lapped up 'Mama Don't Know' with its cool guitar jousting between Cooray and Liutai. "How's everyone doing?" enquired the charismatic Katya - "even better" was the answer after Alex's great guitar intro on the next track complemented by Chernyakova's smooth vocals, before they upped the tempo on Charles Sheffield's 'It's Your Voodoo Working' - a foot tapping stand-out from their set with more great work from Cooray including a 'James Bond Theme' snippet. Talking of films, we were really into Blues Brothers territory now, thanks to Birchall's pounding drums and Liutai's smoky bass, before 'Figure Of Speech', which saw a genre switch, with its refreshing Latino Tango feel. They finished their set with another genre curveball, but fan favourite, 'Ascension', which Katya described as "Their happiest Blues song" - with its twist of Pop. Blues Engine's social PR proclaims "It shakes; it rattles; it dances; it lives." Well they certainly lived up to that tonight. Superb.
The last time we caught Finnish slide Goddess/guitarist and singer-songwriter Erja Lyytinen was at The Borderline last November, at a time when she had just been nominated for the second year in a row as Guitarist of the Year 2018 by the European Blues Awards plus an announcement that her new album would feature guest performances from both Sonny Landreth and Jennifer Batten (Michael Jackson). Fast forward just under five months later and Erja is back, in fact opening with the same two songs at The Borderline, from her critically acclaimed last album 'Stolen Hearts', released in April last year. 'Lover's Novels' not only saw a text book slide solo from the smiling guitar banshee, but also a great Hammond organ duet. "Hello - so many memories", as Erja duly brought us up to date on their recent touring schedule which included support slots for both both Focus and Santana no less, as her band launched into 'Black Ocean', a more down to earth Blues track with its heavy bass line, a nice funky repetitive riff with a full blown guitar solo complemented by both her crystal clear vocal and more awesome organ.
"Ah - seven and a half minutes of shredding" Lyytinen guiltily confessed before introducing her band and giving us a Finnish translation of 'Everything's Fine'. Cue the great riff of the predominantly keys influenced song of the aforementioned name, from her 2012 album 'Song's From The Road'. Commanding the stage with an amazing fret picking solo on her green guitar, Lyytinen oozed real Blues, and with a snippet of Ella Fitzgerald's 'Summertime' - once again confirmed the fact that you can take the green Goddess out of Finland but you can't take the green Goddess out of the girl. A departure from The Borderline setlist was 'Hard As Stone' from the new album, a well constructed light and shade Blues track that built into another trademark Lyytinen guitar salvo. The downbeat 'Stolen Hearts' Blues burner 'Slowly Burning' featured Lyytinen's a cappella vocal echo "Can You Feel My Pain", which hit the mark with Austin Powers standing behind us as he shouted "I Can Feel It Baby". Other than that amusing outburst, this awesome track was duly given the respect it deserved, another opportunity for Erja to take it out on her Fender Strat, with a smooth controlled vocal delivery, given the song's emotional context. This was indeed bordering on Gary Moore excellence.
And talking of influences, despite more slide, the quirky car referenced 'Cherry Overdrive' smacked of Prog time touring with Focus, which is not a bad thing, whilst another new track from her forthcoming album - the title track - was written and composed by Lyttinen, which describes a fictional love story in a parallel universe - given Erja's love of sci-fi movies! With its mix of a big guitar sound, complementary keys and a guitar solo clearly influenced and inspired by Gales/Hendrix and Heart's Melodic 80's Pop/Rock music - this was certainly a delicious appetiser for what we can expect next month - as was the Heavy Rock of 'Snake In The Grass', with Lyytinen laughing on the intro with its biting riffs on its stop-start groovy Funk. "It's been good fun with you folks" as Lyytinen spoilt us with a mouthwatering Mississippi Delta Blues medley. "Robert Johnson eat your heart out. How about this girl from Finland?" she added as her pink slide guitar proceeded to orchestrate some obligatory foot tapping and hand clapping from her enthusiastic faithful. It was time then for another Finnish language masterclass as we all counted down to in Finnish (yes, seriously) to the final song from her set, the unusual time signature of the head banging 'Rocking Chair' - another from 'Stolen Hearts' - essentially a true Blues track with trademark in yer face slide guitar plus a nice grooving riff and vocal, before finishing off the night with an excellent encore/cover of Hendrix's 'Crosstown Traffic', with Erja also playing a green kazoo! On a night of real Blues Rock quality, not quantity, Lyytinen once again proved that she is not only the Goddess of the slide guitar, but also has the voice, charisma, banter and looks as well. And if you made the mistake of missing Erja on tour, do console yourself by getting 'Another World' when it's released later this month. You won't be sorry!
AJ (photos courtesy of Bruce Biege)