Screen Door Records
10 songs – 44 minutes
What is it about Norway? A country with a population of just over 5 million people, it has a thriving blues scene. It holds a number of great blues festivals every year (including the magnificently-titled Hell International Blues Festival, held – perhaps obviously – in the town of Hell); it is the home nation of the ludicrously-talented Kid Andersen (guitarist with Little Charlie & The Nightcats since 2008); and now it has produced 18 year old guitarist, singer and songwriter, Magnus Berg and his red-hot band.
Cut Me Loose, which features seven originals and three well-known covers, is Berg’s first album, but he has already packed a lot of experience into his CV, including recently touring as lead guitarist for multi-talented singer/songwriter Kirsten Thien. And, as a statement of intent, Cut Me Loose serves notice that Berg is a seriously talented musician.
The album features a wide range of blues styles, from the opening blues-rock of “Cut me Loose”, which sounds not unlike an early ZZ Top tune, to the country blues of Jim Jackson’s “Kansas City Blues” and the John Lee Hooker-influenced “St. Pete Boogie”.
Berg’s first-rate band features Bjørn Tore “Daffy” Larsen (harmonica), Håvard Sunde (drums) and Roy Oscar Pettersen (bass). Guest musicians include Kirsten Thien, Erik Boyd on bass and acoustic guitar, Magnus Westgaard on upright bass, Ola Overby on drums and Kristian Koppang on keys. The musicians manage to convey a real spark and attitude on the songs, which makes for enjoyable repeated listening.
Berg’s guitar playing itself is assertively melodic, cleverly mixing approaches and going in unexpected directions. The interplay between Berg and harp virtuoso Larsen is particularly impressive, with the musicians often playing parts in tandem to add extra drive to the already motoring rhythm section, for example on the swinging “One Way to Please You”, which rumbles like an electrified “Rollin’ and Tumblin’”.
A highlight of the album is the country-inflected “When It’s Gone”, on which Thien turns in an emotionally-charged and genuinely moving vocal performance while Berg plays acoustic slide guitar. She perfectly captures an aching desolation as she sings “A wisdom came upon me in the night time. A flash of hope was gone before I woke. I can chase it all I want, but one thing life has taught me. When it’s gone it’s gone and that’s no lie.”
Muddy Waters’ “Hoochie Coochie Man” is often covered and regularly massacred by bar bands around the globe. Berg’s inventive interpretation works however because his version deliberately strays from Muddy’s approach, smoothing out the stop-time “rhino beat” and adding slashing slide guitar.
The third cover version is Freddie King’s classic instrumental “San-Ho-Zay”, which is given a modern blues-rock makeover, with hints of Ronnie Earl’s cover of the same song.
The album closer, “One Too Many”, is a great swinging jump blues with witty lyrics dealing with the protagonist’s repentance after misbehaving: “I got down on my knees, I said ‘baby please, baby please don’t go’. She said ‘I’m not leaving, but there’s the door and your clothes will be on the lawn’. I had one too many.”
With his raspy singing voice, gritty Telecaster playing and songs at the rockier end of the blues spectrum, its possible to discern the influence of Jonny Lang on Berg, but it is also an indication of his talent that Cut Me Loose is such an entertaining, enjoyable slice of modern electric blues. It’s safe to say that we’re going to hear a lot more from Magnus Berg in the future.