October 22-23, 2016

Chicago bluesman Lil Ed Williams might be packing them in for his usual, bouncing, boisterous sets in the Carribean right now, as part of the Legendary Blues Cruise, but only a few days ago he was playing to an enthralled and happy shower of raucous Scandinavian fans as they sailed from Sweden to Finland and back with wall-to-wall blues music. Ed is clearly enjoying himself, a guy currently rocketing along at the top of his game, as the packed crowd would no doubt agree.

A significantly cheaper, more-affordable gig, July Morning’s Blues At Sea cruise from the Swedish capital, Stockholm, is fast becoming a must-do gig, with a range of US and European blues talent featuring each year. Last year saw Memphis outfit the Jeff Jensen Band among the runners while for 2016 Lil Ed crossed the Pond to deliver his own, ever-energetic offering to the 2000-plus, onboard crowd.

Other notable players included Sweden’s own, home-grown blues royalty in Sven Zetterberg, a guy who can hack it in spades and is largely revered in his homeland. The wonderful voice of blueslady Louise Hoffsten was perfectly matched and backed by one of the region’s finest blues outfits, Finland’s Wentus Blues Band, this year celebrating their 30th year together.  Young rocking bluesman Pontus Snibb also turned in a strong, searing set that had the crowd baying for more and six-piece rock-blues band, Trickbag, featuring UK bluesman Steve ‘Wes’ Weston, also produced a white-hot opening set almost as the boat was still heading out of the dock.

Young Swedish trio, Black River Delta slipped and slid along with their growing popularity and resonating fretwork much to the fore, while true traditionalists were treated to an excellent, back-to-back double set from Swedish-based, Yugoslavian acoustic picker Homesick Mac, here teamed with a young blueslady, Maria Stille. This was a pairing that worked well and Homesick Mac’s evident maturity and experience easily had the substantial breakfast-brunch crowd onside as the cruise crept slowly into harbor towards the close of the event.

Overall, this is a well-conceived project, capitalizing on the Scandinavian love of blues and roots music while always bringing unexpected US blues talent to the table. A totally affordable, warmly welcoming event, this is one to add to the blues-lovers diary for sure.

By Iain Patience

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