C’mon baby Lyytinen my fire

Martin Longley catches a rare case of the Finnish blues.

Erja Lyytinen
The Robin R&B Club

Erja Lyytinen is a Finnish blues slide guitar specialist, which might be viewed as a rarefied occupation by some. She’s built up quite a reputation on the European blues circuit, but only managed to pull a modest crowd of around 50 punters, for this Thursday night show in the fairly voluminous Robin. Nevertheless, Lyytinen easily satiated this rock-hungry gathering, and surely word will spread further for her next tour.

It’s only during the last few years that Lyytinen’s profile has grown, via regular road-hogging. Most of her soloing does indeed employ a bottleneck, but she does occasionally side-step into conventional picking. Lyytinen’s voice is also suited to the uprfront, forceful delivery, mixing up hardcore blues, mainline rock and a few stray elements of pop balladry.

She’s at her strongest when playing the undiluted blues, particularly with It Hurts Me Too, after Elmore James, who is surely one of her biggest influences. Her own songs are lighter in tone, but also possess a sharp wit on the verbal front, usually with a modernisation of the blues form from a female vantage point, turning some of the accustomed clichés upside down.

There’s a great micro-moment when her Hand In Hand closes out, after having ‘critiqued’ an old boyfriend over several verses, with a spat-out exclamation of “bastard!”, just as the song crumples to an end, and just the way it is on her album, The Sky Is Crying.

Lyytinen is a queen of the banter, even if this makes her slightly too much of an entertainer, ever eager to befriend the crowd. She’s sincere, but with a streak of satirical defusion. Another highlight was Steamy Windows, an ode to car-sex, and surely one of the most adhesive songs in her set, with its heavily hooklined chorus, courtesy of original composer Tina Turner.