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'Stolen Hearts' is Finnish musician Erja Lyytinen's tenth studio full-length release but, I have to say, she's a new name to me. With the album recorded and mixed on an old analogue desk previously used by the Rolling Stones for some of their most acclaimed work, and with the multi-platinum selling producer/engineer Chris Kimsey at the helm, my hopes were high before even hearing a single note. Even more so with Kimsey's assertion that "Erja's interpretation of the blues takes the genre to another level". That's a sweeping claim and high praise from the renowned knob twiddler. Well, high praise only if it were true. Alas, methinks Kimsey has been a tad over-enthusiastic about just what Lyytinen has delivered here.

Bottom-line: there is no drastic reinvention of the blues on 'Stolen Hearts'. At all. However, Lyytinen has introduced a number of other colours into her musical palette... so this is diversified, rather than reinvented, blues. On paper, that would indicate a fresh sounding album within the context of its core genre-affiliation. However, it all sounds pretty retro and overly familiar. Take '24 Angels' as a prime example, which has overtones of Cream's 'White Room' in places. And the diversity isn't in the context of a genre blend; rather, different genre elements - be it folk, rock, funk, country, soul or jazz - have been introduced in discrete ways. There's no full-on fusion with her blues core here and, as such, no reinvention of the genre. This is regressive, rather than progressive.

And that brings me on to the overall sound of the album, which is unashamedly regressive. Regression here is a good thing, though, as the warm, analogue sound Kimsey has attained for Lyytinen, through using the vintage recording console, conveys a nice organic feeling. However, I would say the sound is only good, rather than great, though. I do have one or two reservations. The distortion on Lyytinen's lead guitar is crying out for a little more oomph in its gain levels. It could certainly do with a little more crunch. This might just be my own preference, though. Or maybe not, for although she works her fretboard with innate emotive expression, it doesn't always sound as full or rich with emotion as it could do. Vocally - and I think this is an inherent problem with the mix - Lyytinen's voice can sound a little detached from the music on occasion. Instrumentations and vocals have both been captured well, but Kimsey seems to have undermined his hard work with an unexceptional mix. To my ears, at least, anyway.

Despite the album's shortfalls, some strong positives remain. Lyytinen's vocal delivery, while tonally weaker at the lower end of her voice ('Awakening' is a prime example), she has a powerful mid to high range, with oodles of soul in her delivery. Just check out 'Slowly Burning', which is a nice, down-tempo, more trad-blues affair, with a serious injection of soul. 'Lover's Novels' showcases her great slide guitar skills, but then she has previously been declared "the Finnish slide goddess" by The Blues Magazine, so I guess she's living up to such a status. A few nice moments of twin--lead guitar harmonies, such as in 'Black Ocean', are a nice touch, although I'm unsure whether this is Lyytinen doubling up her leads, or utilising some sort of pitch-shift harmoniser. Either way, it sounds nice. And then there are some sporadic quirks thrown into the pot, such as in 'Broken Eyes' where the "made my heart stop" lyric sees the music abruptly stop and miss a beat, just with Lyytinen's voice audible, before resuming.

I wanted to like this album more, I really did... and it's certainly an above average effort, but its inherent lacks prevent me from scoring this any higher than I have. As such, 'Stolen Hearts' is an enjoyable enough listen, but it's far from an emotionally enlightening one. Lyytinen has failed to steal my heart, but there's enough promise here to keep me intrigued for what she might deliver next.
Tuohi Records
Review by Mark Holmes
7th April 2017
1) Stolen Hearts
2) Rocking Chair
3) Love Laboratory
4) 24 Angels
5) Black Ocean
6) Slowly Burning
7) Lover's Novels
8) Silver Stones
9) Awakening
10) City of Angels
11) Broken Eyes
"...Lyytinen has introduced a number of other colours into her musical palette... so this is diversified, rather than reinvented, blues."