October 2004

Louise Hoffsten - Knäckebröd Blues
Memphis International DOT 0209
Released: 2004

by David Cantor

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****

Louise Hoffsten’s blues singing gets down so grippingly and with such grit that one can hardly fathom her hailing from the land of Abba. Not that one pop group would represent a nation’s entire musical repertoire, but the blond Swede who recorded so many classic American tunes on Knäckebröd Blues, songs by Sam Hopkins, Willie Dixon, John Lee Hooker, and others, sounds as American as, well, the blues.

The 12 tracks were recorded in 1998 and accompanied Hoffsten’s book Blues, which she wrote mid-career. After many triumphs and much praise, she learned that she had multiple sclerosis and her husband wanted a divorce. Avoiding self-pity, she revealed her strength and intensity of spirit. Blues openly discussed her illness, which afflicts more than 15,000 Swedes. The highly successful book won the prestigious EVA prize from the Swedish National Broadcasting Company.

When a Memphis International Records founder received the CD after learning of Hoffsten at an event in Stockholm in 2002, he wanted the album for his emerging label. He asked Hoffsten to give the disc a title that would spotlight her Swedish heritage. Hoffsten came up with knäckebröd, a crisp flatbread that is a uniquely Swedish staple.

Guitarist Staffan Astner, far from just backing up Hoffsten, constructs much of the album’s hot-blues sound. Alternating between glowing coals and leaping flames, Astner uniquely combines restraint and power to weave his licks through each song in a dialogue with the singer. Bassist Backa Hans Eriksson and drummer Christer Jansson crash like waves, then recede to give vocal and guitar melodies plenty of space on the beach.

As you listen to the frenetic "Slow Down," the lilting "I Guess I’m a Fool," and the steamy "I Just Wanna Make Love to You" and experience the kick Louise Hoffsten gives to this music, reflect on the fact that whites stole the blues from blacks in the first place and so can’t complain if an uppity Swede does it better than just about any American.