Blues News Records
9 tracks/54 min.
The last CD grab-to-review go around left me with this CD – nobody else wanted it. The fairy tale artwork and obvious "European" look put most of us off. Blues? Pristine? What the . . . ? BUT, I was pleasantly surprised by this disc. Although Pristine covers Greg Allman’s “Whipping Post,” this CD is a LONG way from the blues I usually listen to or review. Loaded into Itunes, the genre reads “Alternative.” I will call it “emo blues.” Pristine is Heidi Solheim, vocals, Espen Elverum Jakobsen, guitars, Anders Oskal, Hammond organ and Clavinova; Asmund Wilter Eriksson, bass; and Kim Karlsen, drums and percussion. This is not your grandfather’s blues, let me warn you. Solheim has pipes to spare, and Pristine’s blues get translated through a young Norwegian band’s sensibility. The vocals are forefront, sometimes only backed by one instrument. The result is hypnotic and new. The music sometimes is a whisper that swells and disappears only to return with a whole new approach. Solheim’s vocals and Jakobsen’s guitar interplay to create a force to be reckoned with. It may or may not be blues, per se, but Pristine’s music IS forceful.
Cut one, “Damned If I Do,” begins with Solheim’s vocals over a faint Hammnd organ which builds to a near scream, only to fade where restrained guitar/organ/drums/bass interlude take over. Let me mention that Pristine feels no constraints how long a song should be, well, portrayed. Yes, there’ a lot of EMOtion in Solheim’s singing and the band’s presentation, but for me it’s nice break from the samey samey stuff that comes in the little brown envelopes. “You Don’t Know,” funky guitar should make some American ears acknowledge that we do not, indeed, own the blues. Granted, Jakobsen had listened to Stevie Ray’s choppy rhythms and solos, but he adds his own flavor to his approach. I guess I’d call his playing “under the top.”
The thing I admire about Jakobsen and Solhelim is their ability to “hang out there” with very little, sometimes NO backing and do their thing. In a world where EVERYONE is watching this takes guts. To my ear, they don’t always hit the note, but that’s OK. “Breaking Bad,” is another SRV-like tip of the hat. It is nicely executes and may sent some back to their SRV collections. My little knit cap is off to Pristine for their stripped down version “Whipping Post,” which is just Solheim and Jakobsen. Brave or foolish, taking on this iconic Southern mainstay is an interesting call for this new band. To me, it a brave move. Things get a little heavier with “The Countdown.” There is some Deep Purple seeping out of this song, but the lyrics evoke the bluesy theme of Solheim’s taking her man to task. The big organ sound kicks off “Damage is Done.” Again, a little bit Deep Purple, meets Pristine in a short (barely 2 minutes) to hurt. “Last Day” is slow lament to the last day of a love affair which allows Jakobsen to lay down some fine Strat work that parlays into a nice interchange with Oskalo’s organ work with Solheim soaring over top. “Detoxing” is the longest song on the CD, clocking in at nearly 12 minutes and seems to owe a lot to latter day Led Zeppelin. One can imagine Robert Plant tacking the Eastern sentiments in its portrayal. The song builds into a sort of Apocalypse Now I’m-going-crazy-kill-kill-kill theme song only to return to Solheim’s ragged and emotive vocals to take us out. Are we, indeed, detoxed? Well it feels like we’ve been through something heavy. Pristine’s final cut, “The Blind” takes no prisoners.
All in all, Pristine is power and drama and emotion. To many, it’s heavy rock. Just the same, I’m glad this little insight into Norwegian “blues” ended up in my hands.
Reviewed by David Stine