SLOWMAN – Happy Boy (Slow SLOWCD10)

SlowmanAlthough his drawl sounds like he was raised on the dust of the mid-West, Svnate Törngren actually hails from Sweden where, during the 1980s, he variously played rock, soul-pop and even afrofunk bands before becoming a familiar face on the local blues scene, well-known for his Hendrix interpretations. None of which prepares you for this, his latest solo album, one which finds him firmly in American folk rock and roots territory, ripe with ringing guitars, crashing power chords, and rousing stadium friendly melodies.

The PR blurb talks about how his career has been characterised by a desire to find his own voice, which seems somewhat ironic given how firmly the album seems to be defined by influences and comparisons. Working your way through, you’ll hear Bob Seger (‘Time’), Springsteen (‘Nothing To Pretend’, Mats Lundström clearly having studied at the Roy Bittan school of keyboards), Jackson Browne (‘Little Berlin’, ‘What Do We Do Now’), the Eagles (‘Every Heart Is Crying’) and Warren Zevon (‘Ain’t Gonna Worry’, ‘Where The Roses Grow’). Which isn’t to say that this is simply some soundalike bar band.

With the possible exception of the ballad ‘Happy Boy’, where a somewhat weedy, noodling bluesy electric piano backing works to the detriment of its reflective lyrics and melancholic cello and guitar, and fairly run of the mill blues rock ‘Baby’s Burnin’’, there’s nothing here to have any of those concerned hiding in the corners in embarrassment. Backed by a tight band and, notably on Into Gold, a stirring female gospel choir, Törngren delivers with fire and conviction in his voice while his lyrics make his songs well worth listening to for what they say as much as how they say it. The autobiographical ‘Drowning Stones’, with its express train shuffling rhythm, saloon boogie piano and occasional vocal echoes of Bruce Cockburn, and the inspirational ‘beauty in unexpected places’ themed ‘Where The Roses Grow’ are particularly potent.

The unfortunate fact remains that, in terms of distribution and given the prohibitive logisitics of touring, it’s not going to get a huge amount of exposure outside of Scandinavia, but, despite – or perhaps because of – the familiar touchstones, it’s well worth making the effort to seek out.

Mike Davies

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