‘Forbidden Fruit’ is the fifth solo album from Erja Lyytinen, a pocket dynamo often referred to as Finland’s Queen Of The Slide Guitar. She had also been tagged as her homeland’s answer to Bonnie Raitt. Though flattering, neither epithet is entirely accurate. Lyytinen can play the Dobro and is highly accomplished in many different forms of guitar technique – not just bottleneck blues.
And like Bonnie Raitt, Erja Lyytinen chooses not to dwell exclusively in any one particular niche. The blues is her home – undeniably so – but she loves to explore, blur and, where appropriate, transcend the genre’s boundaries.
Born in Kuopio, a small town in central Finland, Erja was raised by a musically-orientated family on the sounds of Led Zeppelin, the Beatles and Deep Purple. She also listened to a lot of pop music, especially Madonna and Michael Jackson. By the age of 15 she was singing and playing the violin with her mother (a bassist) and father (who encouraged her to take up his own instrument – the electric guitar).
And then along came the blues and an array of guitar players: At first Robben Ford, Pat Metheny and Mike Stern and then, as the dam burst, Stray Cat Brian Setzer, T-Bone Walker, Danny Gatton, Kenny Burrell and Albert Collins. As her interest in slide guitar grew, so did an appreciation of Little Feat’s Lowell George, Derek Trucks, Elmore James, Muddy Waters and of course Bonnie Raitt.
“Nowadays when I want to relax I listen to all these ‘old blues’ guitar players, like Son House,” she reveals.
A 2010 graduate from the prestigious Helsinki Sibelius Academy, Erja signed her first record deal in 2001 and has been a professional gigging musician for a more than a decade.
Released in Finland by Ruf Records on January 18th, 2013, (other countries must wait till the wintertime), ‘Forbidden Fruit’ is her most diverse and rewarding album to date, continuing the advancements that made 2010’s ‘Voracious Love’ such a popular release.
To the surprise of many, ‘Voracious Love’ featured two special guests; Marco Hietala of the symphonic heavy metal band Nightwish and cellist Paavo Lotjonen of Apocalyptica, who specialise in fusing classical music with rock sounds. This time Erja and her well-settled backing group of guitarist Davide Floreno, bassist Roger Inniss and drummer Miri Miettinen did it all alone except for those mellifluous keyboards supplied by Harri Taittonen.
Several of its nine selections were carefully routined out on the road before being laid down at Rescue Room Studios in Helsinki. One of these, ‘At Least We Still Fight’ finds Erja at her poppiest. Meanwhile, the seven-minute ‘Change Of Season’ boasts an airiness and lightness of touch that caused one live reviewer to suggest the song “hinted at an Allman Bros-style melody when its instrumental climax reached full flow.”
One commonality that Lyytinen shares with all of the blues greats is a belief that music should be personal. ‘Forbidden Fruit’ is a frank, at times cathartic, statement.
“Isn’t music supposed to heal you?” she muses. “But I also like to ‘heal’ my listeners, whatever they are experiencing in life because many times we feel we are alone with our problems, but actually many people suffer the same issues.”
Erja reveals that among her primary goals with ‘Forbidden Fruit’ was to sound “honest, beautiful and sad at the same time.” She has undeniably achieved that aim. Though she’d be the first to admit that her skills as a raconteur are not yet on a par with those jaw-dropping levels of musicianship, Lyytinen is learning fast.
“The guitar – or any instrument, for that matter – is there just to support the story that I’m trying to tell with a song,” she believes.
The new album’s collaboration with Alan Darby can only accelerate this progression. The Scottish writer, who has worked with Bonnie Raitt and Bonnie Tyler, co-composed two of its selections. Darby has also played guitar for Eric Clapton and Paul McCartney.
“Alan came to a gig of mine in London and suggested writing together,” explains Lyytinen. “He’s a slide guitarist, guitarist and a songwriter with a similar taste in music, so working together felt very seamless.”
The album’s eye-catching cover image was shot in London by Finnish photographer Tina Korhonen. In contrast to the artwork of previous releases it makes her look every inch the sophisticated little minx.
“The session was awesome!” she purrs. “I love costumes, clothes, beautiful shoes and make-up.”
Of course, there’s a fine line between looking attractive and seeking to gain advantage from one’s gender but Ms Lyytinen insists that the glamorous makeover was undertaken for her own benefit.
“This time I wanted to present myself a bit differently,” she volunteers. “The cover doesn’t show some young, insecure, inexperienced girl who has been put there to pose by men but a 35-year-old woman confident with her own body and unafraid to flaunt her feminity. The album title of ‘Forbidden Fruit’ implies something sexual and tempting, but the song is actually very deep. So there’s a bit of a twist and contrast there.”
A proud endorsee of Fender guitars, Erja has played at the South By South West Festival in Austin, Texas, in 2004 and returned to the States two years later as part of a Blues Caravan package tour that also featured Aynsley Lister and Ian Parker. A similar trek that teamed her with Oli Brown and Joanne Shaw Taylor visited no less than 16 European countries. Over the coming months she and her band will perform the first batch of dates to promote the new release.
‘Forbidden Fruit’ is an album of real substance, from an artist on the rise. The blues have never sounded more essential. Dave Ling, Classic Rock Magazine