While it’s no secret that there’s a strong and vibrant – albeit somewhat underground – blues scene in Europe, it’s relatively rare for European blues artists to make much of a splash in North America . But that hasn’t stopped Norway's J. T. Lauritsen from trying, so for his fifth outing he packed his posse and made his way to Maryland to record at Severn studios, his own band augmented by the core of Severn ’s stable.
The result won’t make J. T. a superstar, but he’s crafted a disc that would be difficult to dislike for all but the most critical of listeners.
Dividing the playlist between original compositions and well-chosen covers that more often than not qualify as blue-eyed soul rather than straight blues, Lauritsen somehow comes across as an immensely likeable guy. And that, perhaps even more than musical merit, is what makes this project so successful.
It’s not, to be sure, because of Lauritsen’s vocal or instrumental prowess. He’s a good singer but the voice itself is just a little thin, and ever-so-slight traces of an accent render the occasional line just a little awkward at times. He plays fine harmonica, but here it’s primarily for accent, and he never cuts loose to show just what he’s capable of. And despite the title, most of the squeezebox on the disc is relegated to a supporting role - again, Lauritsen opts to employ it judiciously, adding an accent here, setting the mood there with subtle, suportive accompaniment.
But Lauritsen chooses his material wisely, opting for a romp through the roots that encompasses traces of country (Tom T. Hall’s magnificent “That’s How I Got To Memphis), swamp-pop (the self-penned “I Just Love You Like I Said”), and raucous rock ‘n’ roll (opener “The Bug”). Blues comes in the form of Leon Russell’s “Help Me Make It Through The Day,” here a minor-key masterpiece, and a quirky but likeable “Tell Me What’s The Reason” courtesy of T-Bone Walker. There’s a satisfying consistency to the project, though, thanks to Lauritsen’s effective use of both harmonica and accordion … pretty much everything here sounds as though it’s accompanied by the glare of neon reflected off rainy streets.
Performances are top notch throughout, whether from known names like bassist Steve Gomes, drummer Rob Stupka, and keyboard ace Benjie Porecki, or from the cast or Europeans whose names won’t likely be familiar to North American listeners.
Enthusiasm doesn’t always triumph, but in J. T. Lauritsen’s case, solid backing and obvious craft, combined with a sincere and genuine love for the songs themselves, render this one a winner.
Norway's loss is North America ’s gain .. well done, J. T.!