Ruf Records RUF 1223
11 songs – 45 minutes
Don’t be deceived by the fresh-faced look of Ina Forsman peering at you from the cover of her debut album. Model perfect with crimson locks and bejeweled with a pearl high on her left cheek, she’s barely in her 20s but all business when it comes to the blues.
A native of Helsinki, Finland, Ina declared to the world that she’d be a singer when she was just age six. She was influenced first by Christina Aguilera after an aunt gifted her with one of the pop princess’ CDs, but gradually fell in love with old-school soul and blues artists, including Donny Hathaway, Sam Cooke and Aretha Franklin.
At 15, she competed during the debut season of The Voice Of Finland. Although she didn’t make it out of the first round, her powerful, sweet alto delivery quickly caught the attention of Helge Tallqvist, the legendary Finnish blues harp player, who invited her to sit in. Before going on her own recently, she toured with him for two years as a regular part of his band.
Now on Germany’s Ruf Records, she’s been touring the world along with two other fast-rising female vocalists – Layla Zoe and Tasha Taylor – as part of the label’s Blues Caravan 2016.
Despite her European background, however, this eponymous album was recorded in Austin, Texas, with a stellar lineup. Laura Chavez, who spent years on the road with Candye Kane, and Derek O’Brien, who’s worked with everyone from Omar And The Howlers to Jimmie Vaughan and Fiona Boyes, handle guitar duties with Nick Connolly on keys, Russell Jackson on electric and acoustic bass and Tommy Taylor on drums.
Tallqvist also makes a guest appearance on harmonica, a rare event for Ruf, which usually avoids the instrument in its lineup. Rounding out the sound are the famed Texas Horns – producer Mark “Kaz” Kazanoff on tenor sax, John Mills on baritone sax and flute, Al Gomez on trumpet and flugelhorn and Aaron Kazanoff on trumpet with backing vocals from Alice Spencer and several of the musicians.
Forsman wrote the lyrics for 10 of the 11 tunes on the CD and composed the charts along with Tomi Leino, demonstrating writing ability and maturity that far exceed her age. The only cover on the disc comes from the catalog of Nina Simone, a good choice because they share similar styles, although Ina has a broader vocal range.
The festivities kick off with “Hanging Loose,” a spritely number delivered with a strong and funky New Orleans feel that’s propelled by the horns and Connolly’s piano. It remains upbeat even though the subject deals with being on a street, surrounded by people and traffic, after being dumped by a lover. The tempo slows to a steady soulful shuffle for “Pretty Messed Up,” another breakup tune. In this one, she’s saying goodbye even though she still professes love for the man. It features a flute solo, something that’s been pretty much absent in American music since being a vital element in the ‘60s and early ‘70s.
The ballad “Bubbly Kisses” follows with Ina singing her desire for drunken sex atop a steady syncopated line on the keys. Unfortunately for Forsman, she’s frustrated because the guy claims to be a man “but hasn’t shown it by now.” You can feel the heat emanating from your speakers as she demands attention. The pace quickens slightly and the funk comes with a Latin feel for “Farewell” as she bids a lover goodbye while having mixed emotions about wanting to see him again soon.
Relationship problems continue in the slow blues, “Don’t Hurt Me Now,” which highlights Chavez, before Tallqvist lends a hand for “Talk To Me,” about loving the way a lover communicates. The romantic seesaw continues with “Now You Want Me Back,” “Devil May Dance Tonight,” “Before You Go Home” and “No Room For Love” before a faithful cover of Simone’s “I Want A Little Sugar In My Bowl” brings the album to a close.
Available through all of the major online retailers, Ina Forsman is an outstanding first release brimming with modern thoughts and soul blues that transcends oceans. Strongly recommended and at the top of my list for debut album of the year.