Ronny Aagren & His Blues Gumbo – Close To You | Album Review

Ronny Aagren & His Blues Gumbo – Close To You

Hunters Records HRC012017

11 songs – 45 minutes

Much like countryman and former band mate J.T. Lauristen, Norway-based guitarist/vocalist Ronny Aagren proves without a doubt that the mighty Mississippi has a branch that flows through Scandinavia with this rich gumbo of New Orleans, Texas and Delta blues.

Based in Raelingen and a 30-year veteran of the music business, Aagren’s influences range from Robert and Blind Willie Johnson to Howlin’ Wolf, B.B. King and The Fabulous Thunderbirds. He’s worked and toured with several top bands in Europe, including Lauritsen’s Buckshot Hunters, Billy C. Farlow, Little Andrew and Larsen Last Chance, and formed this band for a 2016 stint on a European blues cruise.

Producing a sound that would fit comfortably in East Texas or the Louisiana bayous, their show – and subsequent gigs in their homeland – went so successfully that they’ve been touring ever since.

A skilled slide guitarist, Aagren possesses a distinctly recognizable sound on the fretboard and a pleasant, lilting voice, although he also delivers tasty single-note runs throughout most of the material. He’s backed by keyboard player Alexander Andre Johnson, bass player Roar Paulsberg and drummer Ole-Christian Rydland, all of whom sing, too.

Issued on Lauristen’s Hunters Records imprint, the disc swings from the jump. Although some of the song titles appear to be covers, all are originals. A solid single-note guitar solo opens the straight-ahead blues, “Trying To Get Close To You,” which deals with a one-way relationship in which the singer’s full of desire and the lady flirts, she repels him every time he tries to move things forward. Johnson’s organ solo mid-tune shines, as does the stop-time chorus.

The rhythm section and keys kick off “Walking With The Devil,” a modern treatment of standing at the crossroads, trying to decide which way to go. This time, the singer’s so drunk that his mind has a will of its own and the devil’s incarnate in a woman with “fire in her eyes and a body of stone.” He realizes his time’s up the next morning when he awakens beside her, sees her as Satan and realizes that all her beauty has gone. Aagren proves he can whistle as he brings the song to a close.

The medium-fast jump blues “I Don’t Care” follows and is guaranteed to have you up and dancing aided by more nice work on the 88s. The two-step “There Is Hope” keeps the action going as it comes across with a true Arcadian roadhouse feel, as does the Southern rocker, “I Love That Lady.”

“Silence” describes the bittersweet emotions the singer deals with when thinking happily about a lady while, simultaneously, his heart feels blue, realizing he’s lonely and chasing shadows to fight the pain. The love theme continues with the percussive “After Midnight,” which finds him visiting another lady who urges him to stay, and the old-school rocker “A Question Of Time,” in which he realizes he’s going to get what he desires.

The instrumentation quiets for a solo guitar opener for the gospel-tinged ballad “Precious Lord” while ba military drumbeat opens the slide-driven “Bring Me Home,” which asks the Lord to lead the way. The action ends with the slow-blues ballad “Sometimes,” in which Aagren wonders how to handle a relationship in which he fears the lady’s found someone else, but doesn’t care because he realizes that they’re through.

Available through Amazon, iTunes and other retailers, Close To You is a great debut album. The musicianship shines, and the material is fresh despite familiar themes. Strongly recommended.

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