Every once in a while, an artist throws a curveball. Blues and jazz pianist Tor E Bekken, renowned for his historical knowledge and authenticity, also has nothing short of a monster left hand. The talented Norwegian has released over a dozen records, including his dynamic upright piano assault Live at Bar Moskus (Blue Mood Records/Grappa, 2017) and the high-spirited Hardcore Piano (Blue Mood Records/Grappa, 2008).
Yet it came as a surprise to hear that Bekken's latest release is without piano. Reaching further up his sleeve, he delivers a live acoustic blues set playing guitar. Getting past the initial, "What the?" shock, one finds the same level of tradition for the blues that he has put forth on his pianos time and again.
Five original songs, all penned by Bekken, are at play on Help Us in The Hour of Need. Most notably, the entire record is truly live. That is to say, no overdubs, no editing, no mixing or mastering of any kind. The listening experience, therefore, is as if he were playing live in front of you in your living room, weaving imaginatively and poignantly right before your eyes or, in this case, ears. It's about as real as it gets. To break down the components of each song would seem to miss the point. It is the overall feel and earthiness of the blues that washes through you in a steady storytelling fashion. Blues can be geared in a multitude of ways. Commonly they are hard-edged and pleasingly pounded and drilled right through you. Acoustic blues take you there slowly and can resonate deeply into your soul. Bekken's reach proves to be formidable in as much as he grabs you gently and holds you just the same.
Blues is all about feel and that's what you get here. An aside on technique, however, is Bekken's clever and fun usage of an ordinary kitchen knife as a slide while slipping through the title track, "Help Us in The Hour of Need." How he caresses a Hagstrom parlor guitar made in Oslo in 1947 on "Way Down Deep" and reprises on "Still Way Down Deep" is in large portion the beauty of this record. Respecting the instruments that helped him tell the stories is a sign of respect. To hear and sponge his own experiences with the blues is a treat and connection to savor. The blues are generally associated with strife. But you might just feel better after listening to this record. This curveball was thrown for a strike.
Way Down Deep; Dark Night Descending; Help Us In The Hour of Need; Richwood; Still Way Down Deep.
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