“Twenty years. It’s a lifetime in rock ‘n’ roll. Long enough to chew up and spit out the artists who don’t take it seriously. But also long enough for those who live, breathe and bleed the music to build up an enviable body of work.
From his first appearance on the radar back at the turn of the century, when a handful of Danish blues pub-crawlers discovered a diamond in the rough on the circuit of Copenhagen, Thorbjørn Risager’s meteoric rise has rarely allowed him the time to look back over his shoulder. Instead, for this critically acclaimed songwriter, once-in-a-generation singer, expressive guitarist, and bandleader of the mighty Black Tornado, it has been a career with his eyes fixed on the horizon, the next town, the next show, the next song, the next album.
But some milestones demand a moment’s reflection, and the compilation is a rare pitstop for a lifelong road warrior. “I can’t believe that it’s been 20 years since we started on this great journey,” says Risager, as he looks back on a career that has seen him storm the prestigious European and British Blues Awards, take the music to over 20 countries and held his own on stages with legends like Buddy Guy. “We’re so thrilled to celebrate our anniversary with this collection of songs from the last two decades.”
Comprising two volumes and 25 songs, representing the best of Risager's eleven studio and live albums to date, this compilation invites you to take the scenic route through the career of a fascinating modern bluesman. Volume One spans from 2004 to 2012 and captures the excitement of the beginning, when Risager and his original Blue 7 band put a fresh twist on the R&B of '50s New Orleans. The band rocked the clubs of downtown Copenhagen and scored the coveted title of 'Artist Of The Year' at his hometown Blues Festival in 2005.
On this first volume, you'll find the finest songs from that era's breakthrough albums. As the studio debut that saw Risager heralded as "the next big name in blues" by respected US publication BluesWax, 2006's From The Heart is represented by the hauntingly authentic porch blues of "Ain't Ever Gonna Leave No More." Championed by the same magazine – who praised a voice that "forces you to listen… one part Ray Charles, one part Bob Seger, one part Joe Cocker" – the 2007 follow-up, Here I Am, built on his reputation, with bruised soul gems like "Heart of The Night" announcing the Danish bluesman's ability to paint music in every color.
From 2010's Track Record, there's the dirt-road stomp of "Rock 'N' Roll Ride" and the glistening country-flavored "Stand Beside Me." And for fans who have known the band as a full-throttle live act since the release of their cult debut, Live 2004, you'll find punch cuts from 2009's Live At Victoria: from the brassy groove of "You Better Pay Attention" and a fiery rendition of "Burning Up" that lives up to the title. Finally, as the album that concluded Risager's early career, 2012's Dust & Scratches is saluted here by the virtuoso acoustic-led optimism of In "The Back Of My Mind."
The first decade was thrilling, but Volume Two shows that Risager was just getting started. By 2014, Risager's growing momentum had led him to the door of Ruf Records. With that year's Too Many Roads album, he kicked off his new record deal in style (while renaming the band as The Black Tornado to reflect a musical force of nature who blew off the roof every venue they played). While his vocal was well-established as a world-class weapon, Risager's songcraft grew sharper with every release. His most critically acclaimed release, Too Many Roads, gave us gems like the locomotive groove of "If You Wanna Leave" and the mesmerizing "China Gate." "We were pleased about the album," Risager told Bluebird Reviews, "but we never imagined it would attract the attention of so many people. It was a giant leap for us."
With a live reputation that preceded them, the band were natural candidates for Ruf's 2016 Songs From The Road series. You'll find that white-knuckle set represented by a stormy reading of Big Joe Williams' classic "Baby Please Don't Go." 2017's Change My Game was a thundering follow-up, praised as "a classy return" by Classic Rock – giving us the push/pull rhythms of "Maybe It's Alright" and the fuzzbox grind of "Hold My Lover Tight." And, of course, no retrospective would be complete without last year's Come On In, represented here by the slow-burn title track, plus the addictive handclaps and biting slide of "Last Train."
Thorbjørn Risager & The Black Tornado are far from finished. This collection is not the final destination, nor are these songs the last word. It is just a pause for breath at a milestone that few artists reach, and even fewer with so many classic songs in their catalog. "Thanks to everybody who participated in bringing this album together," says Risager, "and to all our wonderful fans out there. We hope you enjoy the album, and we'll be seeing you somewhere down the line."