Bjørn Berge – St. Slide (2004)

I’m pretty sure almost none of you guys have heard of Mr. Berge here, even though he’s been making some of the most badass blue music since 1994. Yeah, he’s Norwegian, blond and built like a bunker. So what? That don’t mean the man can’t play the blues with the best of them. There was an old joke I heard one: “White men can’t play the blues, they give the blues.” Well, Mr. Berge begs to differ. And I think he’s got a point.

Berge started his musical journey by playing the banjo, and it shows! The speed, the accuracy, the staggering cadence of his finger picking on the guitar is definitely reminiscent of the technique employed to play the banjo. The addition of the slide (for those of you unfamiliar with this thing, it used to be a pocket knife back in the ’30s, then a bottleneck later on, and it’s meant to nullify the distinct breaks between notes which occur because of the construction of the guitar, with its pesky frets and all) to his technical repertoire was just the next logical step towards becoming one of the best blues-men I have ever heard play. But Mr. Berge isn’t about technique. That comes like breathing. Mr. Berge is all about the groove, the feel, the sensuality of the blues.

For such a consistent and straight genre, the blues has its share of nuances and sub-genres. There’s the “delta blues”, the old cotton pickin’ slave songs, full of sorrow and sentiment. There’s “Chicago blues” -Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, ring a bell? – and “Texas Blues”, represented by the likes of Stevie Ray Vaughan, ZZ Top, Blind Lemon Jefferson, man, the list goes on and on. All of these people took one of the most honest, no-nonsense musical genres and made it their voice, and Mr. Berge is no different. It’s true that his voice has a bit of bite to it, you can feel a bit of metal in there, but that makes it all the more raspy, powerful and hard-hitting.

It’s really hard to get a hold of Berge songs on YouTube, he’s unbelievably unknown for such a talented, consistent and powerful musician, so the fact that I stopped to talk about St. Slide does in no way mean the rest of his work is somehow sub-par. In fact, I think he’s one of those musicians that just get better with age (which is, in fact, a blues staple, no?). It’s just that St. Slide is the album from which I could find some of the best representations of his style. Mr. Berge is known not only for playing the blues like a total badass, but for bluesifying songs which come from very different genres. His rendition of “Ace of Spades” by Motorhead is every bit as strong and menacing as the original, not to mention “Black Jesus” by Everlast, “Give it away” by the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, and so on and so forth. These are the songs which show up the most on YouTube, in detriment of his originals and less flashy covers. But hey, that’s showbiz.

I won’t spend a lot of time trying to convince you of how great Mr. Berge’s sound is. If I’ve learned anything during the long years of listening and talking about music every single day is that you can’t make people like the blues. It’s one of those genres – you either get it or you don’t. But keep in mind, Berge has a healthy dose of rock in there, coming from the same, honest spot in his heart as the blues themselves. It’s a match made in heaven, I really think it is. The music is refreshing, groovy, energetic, perfect for a drive, or for a day in which you feel you need a boost, a dose of self-irony to keep the moping at bay, or just a cure for self-pity. The blues ain’t about that. It’s about expressing… distress, and transcending it. It’s also, strangely enough, a rather humorous genre – many of its classic songs have a healthy dose of chuckles buried between the notes. And Mr. Berge understands this just fine.

So, hopefully, you’ll enjoy this northern variant of a southern genre. Take it easy, y’all!

3 thoughts on “Bjørn Berge – St. Slide (2004)

  1. “It’s one of those genres – you either get it or you don’t. ” I don’t, and even though I can appreciate this guy’s guitar-picking skill it still hurts my ears…

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