Older rock fans will recognise Corky Laing as the drummer with Mountain, a heavy blues rock band who helped to influence the rise of heavy metal in the seventies. They were an American band, but Laing was Canadian and, as the title suggests, almost everyone involved in this album is Finnish. It seems that, since COVID-19, Laing has spent half his time in Finland and working with musicians of that nationality isn't anything new for him. In fact Harri Väyrynen, the multi-instrumentalist who plays guitar on this album, along with bass on one song and drums on another, is also the engineer at Laing's Finnish studio.
Oddly, Väyrynen isn't primarily known for heavy blues, being most famous for his work in Accu, who Discogs tell me are an "electronic disco funk rock band", and he underlines how varied this line-up truly is. Conny Bloom had a stint in Hanoi Rocks, one of Finland's most famous exports, even if he's also a Swede best known for funk metal band Electric Boys. Talking of Hanoi Rocks, the harmonica on Totally Wrong is played by Michael Monroe. Bassist John Vihervä is a bluesman, best known for his work with the Ben Granfelt Band, and Maria Hänninen is a natural born blues singer who takes the mike for two songs here, including the first single, Whatcha Doin'?
It's a good single, a sassy number enhanced by the trumpet of Antero Priha and some tick-tocking backing vocals, but I prefer Backbone, the other song featuring Hänninen on lead vocals. This is a lot closer to what she does with Mount Mary and, while they may not be as famous as other bands who lent their talents to this project (yet), anyone who's heard their 2021 debut album should be salivating at the idea of Maria singing in front of people like Laing and Bloom. Now, let's see who guests on their much anticipated follow-up, given that Michael Monroe contributed harmonica to the first one and this collection of musicians clearly work well together.
And talking of Monroe, it's the song on this album that features his harmonica that I'd call out as the other highlight. That's Totally Wrong and it's the most urgent track here, a killer heavy blues number that blisters out of the gate with Monroe's harmonica leading the way like the whistle on a steam train. Laing had varied his vocal approach a song earlier with The Ball, narrating most of that one rather than singing it, and he practically chants this one, shouting out the lyrics as if the band had turned it up to eleven in the studio and he didn't think he'd be heard over them.
Like Backbone, Totally Wrong is immediate because it nails its groove from the outset but it only gets better with repeat listens because we start to hear everything else that's going on in them. I adore the second half of Totally Wrong, when the guitars take a back seat so we can hear just how damn good Laing is behind the kit. The same goes for Backbone in a different way, because it's the guitar and lead vocal that grab us from the outset but we gradually realise just how much Laing is doing on drums in the background, especially during the second half.
While I'm concentrating on those two tracks, because I keep on replaying both of them and finding new reasons to adore them, the rest of the album is pretty solid too. It starts out traditionally but well with Everyone's Dream, gets more contemporary with The Ball, which stands out because of a very atypical vocal from Laing, and calms down for a trio of ballads in the middle of the album. It's Laing's voice that becomes most notable on these, because he has a rough, lived in voice that has an emotional resonance on these ballads. He's good on Even More but better yet on Pledge, with a folky edge that's only added to by Hänninen's violin on My World.
It's perhaps telling that those ballads don't lower my rating because three of them at once seems like a lot, especially given that I tend to dread ballads on urgent blues rock albums anyway. These certainly aren't my favourites and I'm not going to be replaying them anywhere near as often as I have already replayed Totally Wrong and Backbone—and I'm not done with those yet—but they do the job well and somehow don't drag the pace of the album down. In fact, maybe they help a little to emphasise Backbone before we ever get to it, given that that's what comes after the ballads.
It's also telling that I want more from this. These nine songs don't amount to much more than half an hour but it feels like everyone was having an absolute blast in the studio making them. I would very much like to hear Finnish Sessions II next year and, even more so, a live recording from a tiny Finnish club where Laing can show off a little more and the core band, plus whoever else happens to show up to guest, can jam on new songs and old standards and the audience can have stories to tell to the friends who missed the experience.
Thanks, Maria, for sending me a copy of this one for review!