Lena & The Slide Brothers – IV
10 songs, 45 minutes
Dual guitars is a staple of the Blues. Although many fundamental guitar-centric Blues recordings from the 20’s and 30’s are solo performances it is really out of the rural song pulls of the Mississippi and Arkansas Delta plantations where the Blues were born; the call and response of the workers in the field; the socializing and, often drunken, sing-a-longs of the barrelhouse. Out of the communal experience came Robert Johnson and his protege sidemen Robert Lockwood and Johnny Shines. Inspired by them, Robert Nighthawk and Big Joe Williams brought the Blues to the city and they begot Muddy Waters and Jimmy Rogers. The lineage continues on until it blooms into the genius innovations of Duane Allman and Dicky Betts, who in a tragically short window before Duane’s untimely death, created the hard hitting dual-guitar road map for generations of forward thinking down-home Blues-heads.
Unfortunately, many bands do not use dual guitar line-ups well. It takes sensitivity and empathy between the ax-wielders. Lucky for us Helsinki’s Lena & The Slide Brothers are a band that gets it right in a BIG way as is proven on IV. A bare bones quartet, lead singer/bassist/lyricist Lena Lindroos presides over the tasteful dual guitar kinship of Matti Kettunen and Yka Putkinen. Dry casual drumming a la Levon Helm from Juha Litmanen pins this band down and allows their stunning singer and guitarists to shine. Minimal ornamentation is added here and there from Helge Tallqvist on harmonica, Teijo Tikkanen on organ and electric piano and Emilia Sisco, Maria Hanninen and Hannu Leiden on background vocals.
A band calling themselves “The Slide Brothers” had better deliver some first rate slide, and these folks do. Guitarist Matti Kettunen, who does the majority of the lead work, has a fluid and effortless slide that swooshes and spins. Like many slide players, his fretted work is also slippery and flowing. Many of the songs here open with Kettunen laying down the finger-picked slide flecked skeleton for the groove and then layers are added gradually, including his own overdubbed leads. The interplay with fellow guitarist Putkinen is stylistically right in the Allman/Betts school. Putkinen has that Dicky type of sting and ruggedness that perfectly balances Matti’s wash of Duane-ism. Putkinen’s rhythm work is stellar, his sense of rhythm is rock solid but also present and lively. Band namesake Lena Lindroos has a fantastic voice. Singing in English with a hint of accent, Lena has a powerful clear delivery that is very much her own. Her singing voice is reassuring; never a sour note or mis-handled phrase.
Writing original Blues music can be daunting. Classic imagery such as trains, snakes, cars and wrong sides of town are so worn out they often sound disingenuous. The ten original Blues Rock songs on IV written by Kettunen and Lindroos do at times veer off into these cliques. All of the music is so top flight that one can easily excuse a few obvious lyrics though. And, there are original approaches on songs dealing with love, societal struggles and mental health to balance. Lead single “Your Kind of Woman” is a forward pass to a doubtful would-be mate (“I’m your kind of woman, you just don’t know it yet”). “Not Your Fault” hauntingly addresses refugee status, abuse and trauma. The joyous call to peace “New Kind of Soldier” is a celebration of peace over war. And, Kettunen’s slashing slide work elevates the galloping shuffle “I Can’t Believe It,” giving urgency and weight to being at rock bottom and still dealing with “my troubles.”
Lena & The Slide Brothers seem to be a high level national Blues act in Finland. Their music is nuanced and professional at the same time as not taking itself to seriously. IV is a tight and highly enjoyable, fully realized piece of music. One hopes that this band of Brothers and Sisters can build their international audience and make their way to the United States so we can all play along with them here.