Blues Boulevard Records, Licensed by Hokahey Records
CD: 12 Songs; 46:28 Minutes
Styles: Contemporary Rock, Electric Blues Rock
As a rule, most blues musicians and groups have only one incarnation: Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Blind Lemon Jefferson, et al. However, Finland’s Micke (‘Mickey’) Björklöf possesses two distinct stage presences: one with collaborators Lefty Leppänen and Chef Kivimäki (featured on Up the Wall) and one with the ensemble Blue Strip on After the Flood. Those who crave excellent slide guitar will be pleased to hear that Lefty is featured in both Micke’s duo/trio and this talented band. The main difference between the two is that the former focuses on vocal harmony and smooth blues style, while the latter leans far toward the ‘rock’ side of blues rock.
Blue Strip consists of Björklöf on vocals, harmonica, and rhythm guitar; Leppänen on backing vocals along with electric, slide, and National steel guitar; drummer Teemu Vuorela; bassist and background vocalist Seppo Nuolikoski, and Timo Roiko-Jokela on percussion and MalletKAT. Special guest stars include Brian Coogan on Hammond organ, Wurlitzer and grand piano, and backup singers Michaela Harrison and Alexis Marceaux. Together they’ve created three hits:
Track 03: “Water From Your Shoe” – The Russians have a proverb: “Wash [someone’s] feet and drink the water,” meaning ‘Beg forgiveness because you’re totally guilty’. That’s what our narrator is willing to do for his lover in this soulful blues ballad. What’s his crime? Being on the road too long in order to “pay the dues, play the tunes, makin’ it all right”. What’s he going to do when his travels are over? “When I come home to you, baby, I’ll drink water from your shoe, love you, love you, love you like a man.” Blue Strip meshes perfectly here, especially all the vocalists on harmony. Brian Coogan plays a dynamite grand piano finale.
Track 06: “King Alcohol” – Creepy and gritty, slow number six showcases both sides of some musicians’ favorite monarch: “Down in the alley, moonshine pass-around, all past the crazy – no fear.” Why do they imbibe, other than to erase chaos and anxiety? “Some drink to fall. Some drink to get back again. Some of them want to get sober; they just can’t tell you when.” The echoed percussive sound effects to mark the beat sound like banging trash can lids or distant punches. Sometimes potent potables are worth the price, but King Alcohol shows little pity.
Track 12: “Open Up Open” – The most traditional blues track on the album is its last one. With electric riffs reminiscent of Chris Isaak’s guitar on “Wicked Game”, “Open Up Open” is a nice closer. It has above-average vocals and a familiar theme – getting a recalcitrant partner to talk.
Overall, Up the Wall is a better and more blues-based offering from Micke Björklöf and company than After the Flood. Genre die-hards, if you only have money for one of these two, pick the previous CD.