When Ugly Becomes Beautiful
12 March 2008
Black River Bluesman & The Croaking Lizard have a strong belief in the no-frills alternative blues. On their new album "Rat Bone", the foursome get to realise themselves bigtime.
Native Finns have returned to the turntable. The names Huttunen, Juhola, Konttinen – and a Lindgren, all-important in the bilingual country – have a true Finnish ring to them. In music, they are known by the catchy name of Black River Bluesman & The Croaking Lizard (nee The Cockroach Combo). The name of the new album alone – Rat Bone – advices that one had better find the media-sexy pop music somewhere else.
The sounds created by the band are closer to the 'original' blues than the majority of other new blues releases do. In that sense, the term 'alternative' is not the most logical possible; it is an understandable one, however, and it should be used for the sake of coherence.
In addition to its external features, the music itself indicates that this album is not about to make friends with anybody. On the contrary, the band only believe in themselves and in their alternative way of expression. They do not try to sound modern in any way. Even less are they interested in making a commercially successful album. They play these no-frills alt.blues just because they want to; "Rat Bone" is self-realisation in a most honest sense.
Apart from one set of lyrics, the songs are written by Jukka "Black River Bluesman" Juhola, also the singer and guitarist of the group. The foursome play these 11 originals in ways that are compelling and enchanting. One song (A Mighty Good Day) almost has some melody in it! The strongest track is probably the apocalypse-inspired "You're Wrong Again" with lyrics by John Gerhard. Closing song "Healow" is an easier one; otherwise only tempo changes bring in some variety.
The use of the baritone guitar is a central ingredient in the sound of the band. The tool, used by Jussi Konttinen, is tuned somewhere between a guitar and a bass. In the end, its sound is closer to a guitar – Konttinen is a guitarist himself anyway. Juha Lindgren's harmonica has a lot of strength and stamina to it. Antti Huttunen, who joined the band as a drummer last year, keeps the whole package together.
"Rat Bone" by Black River Bluesman & The Croaking Lizard is a sure-fire opinion-divider. It is a pamphlet for alternative blues, and at the same time, a strong objection towards everything mainstream. The beauty of music is in the ear of the beholder – this album is not pretty, at places irrelevantly so, but in its honesty and originality it possesses a great deal of inner beauty.
Black River Bluesman & The Croaking Lizard: Rat Bone, 2008
Jukka Juhola (guitar, vocals), Jussi Konttinen (baritone guitar), Juha Lindgren (harmonica), Antti Huttunen (drums)
Links: The band's http://www.bluesman.fi/ and MySpace