The blues as we know ‘em may have originated in America, but bands from around the world have proven the twelve-bar form is a genuinely universal language. It’s interesting to hear how well groups nail a musical language that’s far from native. It’s even more interesting to hear how the blues has influenced and shaped original music in a culture far removed from the music’s birthplace.
Case in point, “Three Times Seven is …”, by Finns Micke Bjorklof & Blue Strip. They’re clearly influenced by tradition, but don’t let it stand in the way of innovation; their music borrows from rather than imitates the blues, for the most part with excellent results.
Listeners might wonder what they’re in for, however, with the opening track, “Ray Needs A Mojo Hand.” Sounding for all the world like the Temptations’ old chestnut, “Papa Was A Rolling Stone,” the song soon finds it’s own groove, but it shows composer (and the band’s guitarist) Ville Leppanen has eclectic tastes and open ears. Things are considerably rootsier with the second track here, “5-10-15 Hours,” with Leppanen’s mandolin and intricate percussion creating a driving rhythm that renders this one a highlight. “Miss Bluecap” shows the band can swing like mad while negotiating tricky changes. The use of vibes along with siren sound effects raise the fun quotient on an already jaunty tune right through the roof.
“Good Light” is a hypnotic, chant-like number with atmospheric percussion and an all-too-brief taste of Bjorklof’s harmonica, but within its relatively simple structure there’s enough going on to sustain interest. “Mapman” features funky guitar and punchy horns and a mid-tune break that’s musically satisfying on a song that’s lyrically lightweight (a homage to road maps?). Lyrics prove a bit of a problem on “Let My Love Shine Over You” as well – there’s a bit too much space on this pleading ballad to get away with awkwardly constructed phrasing, although the guitar solo is exceptional.
“Lowland Girl” is another delight, though, riding a voodoo vibe straight from the swamp that builds in power and intensity to hypnotic effect, while “Rocket To The City Moon” is another joyously jazzy romp again enhanced by judicious vibraphone and fleet acoustic guitar. Dave Bartholemew’s “Love No More” is jaunty and bouncy, though Bjorklof’s accent proves a bit distracting, if only because the template for jump tunes like this is so firmly fixed. “Morning Train” is forgettable, here showing best intentions and grand ambitions don’t always result in solid lyrics – best to skip over this one and go straight to “Red Lightening Mama,’ a delta blues with several twists that gives Leppanen another opportunity to exhibit some dazzling fretwork. Things come to a close with “Wheel Of Fortune,” another jazzy number that would be hard not to like.
Production here is first-rate throughout, as are performances. Leppanen’s guitar work is consistently compelling, and Bjorklof does a good job on vocals, even if his accent is just a little distracting at times. All in all, though, this one’s distinctive enough to stand out, and delightful enough to recommend to those interested in how the blues has branched out in distant lands.