Sometimes it is possible to honor an artist’s ambition even if you cannot completely enjoy the results. Some might find that the case with Thomas Nordlund’s first solo album, Divide Avenue. Nordlund is a Twin Cities based musician and songwriter with a growing CV serving as guitarist for artists like Sarah Morris and the Jana Nyberg Group. Nordlund’s chops are beyond question. He has studied with many respected teachers and holds a Bachelor’s in guitar performance and a Certificate in Jazz Studies. The eight songs on his debut are the product of one year’s work where the guitarist challenged himself to write a new song every week. The source inspiration for the album comes from his travels across the rugged and expansive landscapes of the Baja, Mexico area and that atmosphere comes through on every song. This is an artist clearly possessed by his own vision and convictions, but you can’t consciously set out to create a masterpiece and expect to succeed. Or can you?

The entire idea of an instrumental album like Divide Avenue is frankly, in this day and age, rather ambitious to begin with. The temerity of someone releasing guitar instrumentals into this culture! I joke, of course, but these are songs that demand we engage our own imaginations. The first track and title song grabbed me immediately. Nordlund’s baritone guitar gives every cut an unusual voice, familiar yet not, and its evocative tone doubles down on its exotic flavor. The album’s second song, “Whiskey Rumination”, moves listeners back to something a little more typical, a mid-tempo south of the border guitar workout with a light jazz bounce. “Whispering Son” is more conventional than it sounds. In essence, this is an idiosyncratic rock track that, despite its sound, obeys the genre’s fundamentals. There’s a great stepping up in this song. It starts with a relatively bare frame and soon fills it in with increasing instrumental intensity. “Ensenada Nights” revisits the southern feel present in “Whiskey Rumination”, but not as deeply and with a much lighter touch. Nordlund’s collaborators stand out on every track and Lars-Erik Larson turns in another fantastic drumming performance here worthy of mention.

Perhaps the subtlest song on the album is its fifth song, “Rilke in the Rain”. It’s really nothing at all like anything that comes before it and shows the band in a far more meditative mood musically. Some might complain that it goes nowhere or never really resolves itself in a satisfactory way, but they might be missing the point. Nordlund’s ability to challenge the listener remains undimmed on “Wandering Daughter”, a track marrying propulsive rock drums with quicksilver brass lines, tasteful guitar work, and deep in a pocket bass runs. It’s the album’s closest thing to a full on virtuoso performance. “Iron John” hinges on a shift from its guitar heavy first section into a lighter second half, but it seems like two half-finished song ideas brought uneasily together. The last song, “Sagatagan”, has the familiar epic feel of earlier songs, but there’s an element of chaos and things unsettled in the music that winds down in a slow, lyrical coda. If Thomas Nordlund’s Divide Avenue is a self-conscious attempt at music immortality, he didn’t quite make it. But he tried and, by trying, put himself and his art on the line in often thrilling, bracing fashion.


Stunningly atmospheric and technically superb Divide Avenue is an eight track instrumental album by Minneapolis based guitarist and composer Thomas Nordlund.

The album pays homage to the expansive landscapes of Baja, Mexico and was recorded live at The Hideaway in Minneapolis. The lead instrument is Nordlund’s electric baritone guitar and includes the input of six other musicians who contributed 6 string guitar, trumpet, flugelhorn, wurlitzer, Rhodes, piano, bass and drums.

The result is quite stunning with the open desert and burning sun imagery being evoked not by a mariachi musical expression, as might be expected,  but by an intoxicating jazzy sound which often revisits some of the jazz rock guitarists so popular of the 70’s such as Al Di Meola and Larry Coryell.

Instrumental albums can often be difficult listens and Nordlund’s debut album is no exception. They generally suit a certain mood and require more than couple of listens to digest. Divide Avenue is no exception but on repeated listens reveals itself as a wonderful body of work which would certainly work well as a film soundtrack.


Thomas Nordlund captures a guitar sound for the future

This is Nordlund's debut release. He is a young Minneapolis guitarist, here playing and extolling the virtues of the electric baritone guitar. Purely an instrumental record (a rarity these days), the eight tracks describe a road trip through Mexico where Thomas traveled with the bassist on the album, Andrew Foreman, moving from Tijuana to Bahia de Los Angeles, meeting, in Thomas’ own words, “some of the most kind and gracious people” and also being mesmerised by the land. Again, in Thomas’ own words, they traveled “through mountains, cities and small towns, vast plains, and forests full of cacti and giant boulders.” All the songs are written by Thomas and he is accompanied by Ben Abrahamson - 12-String Steel Baritone Guitar, 6-String Steel/Nylon Guitars, Jake Baldwin- Trumpet, Flugelhorn, Kevin Gastonguay - Wurlitzer, Rhodes, Piano, Maryam Yusefzadeh – background Vocals, Andrew Foreman - Acoustic/Electric Bass and Lars-Erik Larson – Drums. What is offered here is musicianship of the highest order.

The baritone guitar nowadays is sadly under appreciated. But, Thomas' playing does not reiterate Spaghetti Westerns or even the theme to “Twin Peaks.” Rather, it is a young musician playing this type of guitar in a different and interesting way. Each track is a carefully considered musical exploration, that demands careful consideration and improves considerably after subsequent listening. After a while, you realise you don't need the lyrics, but relish instead the opportunity to hear and understand the music in its own right as it conveys mood, synthesis and relativity. There is not one poor track on the album which develops as a symphonic piece. Tracks to listen to again and again could be “Whispering Son” with Thomas’ skill in playing, signifying meaning and inter relating with Jake Baldwin’s trumpet. Watch the YouTube video. And listen to "Rilke in the Rain” which evokes “the chill of uncertain sunlight.” It all shows how thoughtful the music is, and what a prospect Thomas Nordlund is as well.


Thomas Nordlund took an interesting approach to the recording of his debut album, Divide Avenue. After he finished demoing the material, the eight instrumental cuts compromising the release were recorded and mixed as the band performed live at The Hideaway in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

There is a wonderfully spontaneous quality to the album – even lacking the aforementioned knowledge, these songs seem like they have never existed until their individual recordings here and were born from the moment rather than preconceived. Nordlund’s influences are obvious and exert a positive hold over the material. Strands of jazz, rock, blues, and even a little light country waft in and out of the mix, but the defining element is Nordlund’s baritone guitar. It highlights every passage it touches with its benign assertiveness and lifelike phrasing.

Instrumentals aren’t always an easy sell, but in the hands of a consummate musician like Nordlund, the guitar becomes a de-facto vocalist and communicates without words. He creates a world with the first track. The performance of the album’s title song starting things off combines many colors, phrases and chords alike, with understated accompaniment to paint a vivid picture. This is headphone (or ear bud) music par excellence and it’s easy to close your eyes and imagine traveled slowly across a majestic, windy landscape.

He tempers the epic feel some with the comparatively conventional “Whiskey Rumination”, a reverb-driven and Tex Mex flavored border song with a slight outlaw edge. “Whispering Son” has one of the album’s best build ups. It moves from slightly disconnected passages near the opening into full on blues/rock guitar during the second half. His feel is every bit as important as his skill set here. There’s an undeniable aura of confidence emanating from his guitar work and a poetic sensibility in what he chooses to play that fills the music with ghostly melancholy. “Rilke in the Rain”, much like “Whispering Son”, relies on an orchestrated effect. The differences are small, but crucial. While “Whispering Son” pays off splendidly, you know what’s coming, while “Rilke in the Rain” resolves tension by releasing it in half measure before increasing the pressure. This is music for chasing your own tail; eventually, you realize there’s no way out of the gloom and, instead, it just keeps transforming. Unlike its twin track, “Wandering Daughter” dispenses with any blues clichés and goes full on jazz. It isn’t a stylish affectation, thankfully, but rather gives this song a much different texture while remaining consistent with the album thus far, i.e. focusing still on Nordlund’s guitar. The album’s penultimate track, “Iron John”, begins life with sheets of noise guitar interspersed with Nordlund’s customary melodic work before transitioning into a second half dominated more by keyboards and jazzy accents.

What a wildly creative work and it wasn’t a cakewalk. Nordlund’s sound and approach could be misjudged and ultimately self-indulgent as a result, but he never lets things go in that direction. Despite their occasionally lengthy running times, Nordlund’s eight songs play like lean focused works of art. Is it a perfect album, no, but Divide Avenue ranks among the best guitar instrumental albums recorded in the last two decades.


When instrumental music works, it works for the same reasons it always has. Stripping away lyrical content forces listeners to focus on elements that otherwise might get short shrift – arrangement, melody, harmony, and individual playing. Thomas Nordlund gives listeners a lot to do. Multiple musicians appear on Divide Avenue and help create sonic movies invoking landscape, emotion, and action in equal measure. Nordlund’s own playing on baritone guitar draws from a deep grab bag of approaches like jazz and blues mixed in a potent stew of chords, coherent melodies, masterful vibrato, and a perfect touch for the instrument. His musical presence doesn’t consume every second of the album, but it’s the force lurking at its center and drawing all other musical elements into its orbit.

“Divide Avenue” sets the stage with the same aforementioned combination of chords, melody, and lead licks. It’s a moody piece, like many of the songs are on Divide Avenue, but there are subtle shadings of mood scattered across the performance. The rhythm section draws attention for their playing here as they will elsewhere.

“Whiskey Rumination” sounds, on the surface, much more pensive than it actually is. The song rolls by with simmering, mid-tempo menace and the drumming, specifically, helps push its attitude to the edge. “Whispering Son” comes off as confident, ambling jazz with stronger than usual guitar. The muscular six string work and another great drumming turn from Lars-Erik Larson gives its jazz leanings added oomph.

A lighter hand is in evidence on “Ensenada Nights” and it percolates with an entertaining, understated sultriness not common to Nordlund’s album. “Rilke in the Rain” is something entirely different, a quasi-progressive exploration of sound within some well defined confines. The title refers to the poet Rainer Maria Rilke and, based on that, one can only assume Nordlund is aiming at some sonic invocation of the author’s character. It certainly has a dream-like air, but it’s a dream streaked with darkness and shadows.

“Wandering Daughter” is a free-floating jazzy excursion marked a little different by Nordlund’s eloquent and occasionally fiery guitar. The album’s final song, “Sagatagan”, is one of its finest moments thanks to a superbly constructed arrangement propelled forward, largely, by Nordlund’s guitar.

Based out of Minnesota’s Twin Cities area, Nordlund is an anomaly in our world. This is an American musician who brings a good sense of what audiences want, his own ambitions, and musical facility to his work and manages to balance those competing elements better than most. Divide Avenue shows off this balance splendidly. Its eight songs never run on too long, fire the imagination right off, and are fleshed out by top notch players who seemingly understand everything Nordlund does or are simply willing to trust his vision. You’ll hear few albums ever that are this diverse and so successful at pulling it off.


Instrumental albums face an unfair rap from some as “dull” compared to lyric songs. There’s a likely unspoken and shared assumption among those individuals that the pop structure is so inherently formulaic that the medium doesn’t entirely work without lyrical content.

Thomas Nordlund’s first album Divide Avenue smashes those assumptions. There is a template guiding Nordlund’s approach to songwriting, performing, and recording this release, but there are countless shades and modulations springing from that point of view. When he revisits phrases with his baritone guitar, Nordlund might restate them note for note, but there are subtle variations in his picking hand’s velocity, angle, and so forth produce different inflections.

The music has a lot of spontaneity and even an improvisational air, but the aforementioned quality is a conscious attribute. Thomas Nordlund proves on Divide Avenue that he is an individual artistic force in his own right capable of making substantial musical statements.

There’s a strong sense of structure surrounding the release. The title track feels and plays like a statement – Nordlund lays out the album’s core, guitar-centered sound and essentially provides listeners with a primer for the rest of the album. His baritone guitar is a slightly unusual instrument, but never so sonically unrecognizable that it renders the album all but inaccessible.

Nordlund unwinds lazily paced phrases that, nonetheless, resolve themselves coherently. His note selection is impeccable – it may run the risk of cliché, but Nordlund’s spare style allows him to conjure moods and colors seemingly at will.

As its title implies, Whiskey Rumination has a brooding edge. The hard-boiled guitar, however, has rough-hewn attitude coming from it, a sort of slowly developing swagger underscored by Nordlund’s accompaniment.

Keyboards and horns take a much bigger role on Whispering Son and its relaxed groove benefits from the added color. Much of the supporting music on Divide Avenue concerns itself with groove and it’s not unexpected. Nordlund’s musings on guitar would lack direction without strong support behind him giving him the steady foundation to explore. “

Rilke In The Rain is one of the release’s best moments because of its dynamics. Few songs on Divide Avenue have the art of gradual reveal mastered so completely. Nordlund shows tremendous compositional patience bringing new elements into the track over time and the song’s shift from its atmospheric first half to a much more musical second half is strong testimony about his gifts as a player and composer.

Wandering Daughter is outright jazz, but it isn’t technically dense or inaccessible. Nordlund keeps his focus, throughout the album, on crafting comprehensible tapestries rather than attempting to impress listeners with hollow virtuosity.

Divide Avenue’s conclusion, Sagatagan, is a percussion heavy exclamation point on the album with appropriately elegiac guitar. It ends Nordlund’s debut in a memorable way and points to its strengths.

Despite an uniformity of sound, Divide Avenue parades a variety of voices for the listener’s enjoyment and each one speaks from an emotional rather than technical point of view. Connecting with this music isn’t difficult. It’s a vibrant work of musical art and one of the best instrumental releases in recent memory.


Guitar-driven instrumental albums have historically enjoyed scant popularity. The emergence of fusion in the 1970’s saw bands like Mahavishnu Orchestra and guitar icons like Jeff Beck releasing seminal full-length instrumental albums garnering critical acclaim and retaining a strong cult following through present day. The subgenre faded from mainstream notice during most of the next two decades, but by the mid-nineties, bands like Earth and Sunn O))), among others, restored life to the genre as a very different animal and mainstream legends like Neil Young even turned their hand to similar efforts with his Dead Man soundtrack album. Thomas Nordlund’s debut solo album, Divide Avenue, is very much in the vein of Young’s album. Its eight songs are focused around his baritone guitar, but Nordlund employs a wide array of instrumentation that the aforementioned artists wouldn’t consider. They are complete works and not merely vehicles to prove Nordlund’s instrumental prowess.

He opens the album with its title song. “Divide Avenue”. The track typifies much of the album’s songwriting approach and doesn’t immediately show its cards. It accumulates, instead, each new phrase for Nordlund’s guitar added to an expanding narrative, and reaches its resolution in unusual ways. Many pop songs are catchy grab bags of ideas ram-rodded together or else predictable romps through clichéd formulas, but Nordlund’s compositions have impressive and often inevitable unity. “Whiskey Rumination” has a smoky, almost noir feel thanks to its guitar, but the rhythm section’s light swing accentuates that nicely and gives the song some added behind the beat drag. The muted opening of “Whispering Son” gradually blooms into a carefully threaded musical texture supporting added strands of keyboards and brass. It more pronounced jazz pedigree than either of the album’s first two tracks and its follow-up, “Ensenada Nights”, further indulges Nordlund’s jazz influences. The result is far from toothless, Nordlund comes at jazz with the same exploring, spontaneously inspired spirit heard in the album’s remaining cuts. “Rilke in the Rain” might be the strongest choice for showing his peak songwriting. There’s a subtle orchestrated quality to this track – it creeps towards escalation, subsuming new elements slowly, and thereby maximizes its potential tension.

Payoffs don’t come on this album like they do with outright pop or rock efforts. The fullest realization of a Divide Avenue song is the sensation they are fully born and represent the clearest expression of their creator’s vision. “Iron John” locks onto a groove quick and follows it from the song’s light noise rock opening section through a practically contrapuntal second half. The guitar fades from its prominent place in the mix while the brass and percussion takes over. Divide Avenue requires two or more listens before you begin to full appreciate Thomas Notdlund’s aims here. This is ambitious fare. In some ways, Nordlund’s songs on Divide Avenue act as novelistic observers of their creator’s mental life, translated into song, and assigned meaning.


Thomas Nordlund, respected sideman for artists like Sarah Morris among others, has released his debut solo effort. The Twin Cities based baritone guitarist’s eight song instrumental effort, Divide Avenue, is one of the most unusual releases in recent memory, but fits a mold. A number of other iconic guitarists have taken this tact – centering their guitar in stripped back musical landscapes and filling in the spaces with six string color. It isn’t wholly inaccurate to dub these songs “soundscapes”, but the distinction needs made that these aren’t skill exhibitions. There isn’t a single song on Divide Avenue that isn’t a fully formed composition with all recognizable components. This is an album from a well-rounded musician with the added good sense to surround himself with sympathetic collaborators.

The restrained mid-tempo stroll of “Divide Avenue” opens things up. There’s a smattering of keyboards mixed into the arrangement for extra color, but Nordlund’s guitar dominates. It isn’t an oppressive presence but, instead, dips into the music and unveils condensed musical phrases before falling silent again. The brushed drums are recorded quite well and keep pushing the tempo while still retaining their feathery touch. “Whiskey Rumination” seems ripped from the soundtrack of a movie thriller set in the Southwest. The guitar melody is even more “vocal” here than the first cut and whips up visions of desert horizons and long empty stretches of highway. “Whispering Son” brings Nordlund’s rock and jazz influences together with kinetic results. Tinkling keys and a restless, loping rhythm section strike an interesting counterpoint with Nordlund’s consistently eloquent, sometimes strident, guitar lines. Divide Avenue is long on atmospherics and this song certainly doesn’t disappoint in that area. “Ensenada Nights” dispenses with the clamoring for atmospherics and reverts to a much more guitar-centric stance. The rhythm section clearly follows Nordlund’s lead here and he’s much busier, in general, than earlier efforts. “Ensenada Night”, as well, slightly brightens the mood of an album otherwise steeped in shadows. “Rilke in the Rain” references a famous German poet from the early 20th century, but the knowledge is immaterial towards enjoying the song. The tempo slides back into something slower, more deliberate, and rely primarily on the guitar for the selection’s first half. The six strings slowly fades from the mix in the song’s second half until listeners are left with little else by the rhythm section. Piano parts are fragmented and keyboard runs are blurred before the song fades away. “Wandering Daughter” moves with loose-limbed confidence and keeps things uncluttered. Even the overt addition of horns does nothing to sway his view – instead, it brings the song much closer in spirit to something nominally happier like the earlier “Ensenada Nights”. The album’s final song “Sagatagan” bears a passing resemblance to Pink Floyd, particularly thanks to Nordlund’s stellar lead work, because of their spacious soundscapes and how everything has a powerful theatricality attached to it.

Divide Avenue will not convert every listener. There are many who, for one reason or another, simply don’t like instrumental albums. Any true lover of music, most of all guitar, who hears this will likely be blown away. Nordlund plays with equal parts deliberation and wide-eyed inspiration and Divide Avenue captures that indecision well.


Thomas Nordlund’s time accompanying respected performers like Sarah Morris and the Jana Nyberg Group and his extensive musical education has prepared him for this moment. The release of his debut solo album, Divide Avenue, amply demonstrates his sharp musical decision making and command of the instrument. Each of the album’s eight songs is an evocative soundscape powered by a vivid imagination skilled enough to translate his thoughts into melodies, chords, scales, and sustained notes. The Twin Cities based artist remains admirably obliviously to trends – a largely instrumental album, in this age, truly deserves to be called a labor of love. You hear that listening to Divide Avenue.

The title track opens the release and places it on firm melodic footing. Nordlund’s electric baritone guitar has a particularly vocal quality on the song’s succinct phrasing and benefits from steady acoustic rhythm guitar underpinning it. Lars-Erik Larson’s drumming shows great restraint, so it’s quite noticeable whenever he tweaks the tempo. The song has a decidedly cinematic slant and Nordlund invokes starkly beautiful landscapes by positioning silence as a counterpoint to his playing. “Whiskey Rumination” is, as its title implies, a meditative number with a relaxed, deliberate tempo. The pace picks up a little during the song’s midway point before settling back into its initial groove, but Nordlund’s eloquence never wavers. The melodies are taciturn, in some ways, and strike a melancholy chord in listeners, but there isn’t a wasted note.

Kevin Gastonguay’s Fender Rhodes opens “Whispering Son” before Nordlund joins him. The live nature of the recording is never more apparent, at this point, than here. The synthesis of keyboards, guitar, horns, and traditional instrumentation like bass and drums sounds spontaneously, impromptu, and when Nordlund begins trading lines with Gastonguay, it’s easy to hear how they are so clearly feeding off of and into one another. It pushes Nordlund’s lead work further than before. “Ensendada Nights” has a light Latin feel, but its deeper musical DNA is definitely jazzier. This seems like a song holding itself back, eager to burst out in a bigger way, with its occasional flares of percussion alongside well-timed lead guitar runs.

“Rilke in the Rain” name checks the famous German poet Rainer Maria Rilke and does a convincing job of approximating his depth, thoughtfulness, and even despair. The track is slow-moving and relies heavily, as many Nordlund songs do, on the space he leaves for others instruments to breathe. The gradual emergence of piano and brass in the song’s second half lightens its emotional tenor some, but this is a song streaked with shadows. It might be fair to surmise Nordlund, despite his status as a performing artist, is much more introspective than we might suspect. This is very insular music, without exception, but nonetheless still capable reaching out to listeners. “Wandering Daughter” is a mid-tempo jaunt with a fluid rhythm section and crackling guitar. “Sagatagan” concludes the album on an appropriately minor key note but continues following the same melodic template that’s informed the release as a whole.

This is an impressive release by any measure. Thomas Nordlund is musician as magician, a playing talent capable of fleshing out entire landscapes with only a few notes. There is something almost painterly about this album, even literary. Divide Avenue is a moving work of musical poetry.


Despite the instrumental nature of Thomas Nordlund’s debut album, there’s something on this for everyone. The rock fan will appreciate his lead work, even at its minimalist best, and the often powerful drumming. The songwriting and progressive rock fan will enjoy how Nordlund incorporates a variety of keyboards into his overall package without ever allowing the electronics to overwhelm his other instruments. Blues fans will be pleasantly surprised by the sincere and cutting guitar phrases creeping into his language. There’s much more. There’s also a first class intellect guiding the artistic direction on this album and making all of the moment by moment calls that help it connect with its listeners. Beyond sound, beyond technique, the eight songs on Divide Avenue are tailored to directly connect with listener’s emotions and jolt their imaginations to life.  

The title song sparks everything to life. It takes a restrained pace, like much of the album, and the leisurely tempo provides Nordlund’s guitar work an ideal forum for extemporization. Nordlund demoed this material before cutting the current album but, despite the song’s obvious structure, something appealingly free form about the performance. It is easy to suspect they would never perform it the same way twice. Much the same can be said about the second song “Whiskey Rumination”. It suggests visions of a Wild West outlaw on the run through Texas rather than the implied regret in its title, but it’s a small matter. It’s one of Nordlund’s best performances on guitar and the band matches him every step. The recording intimacy on “Whispering Son” places you right in the middle of its musical dance and the sleepy jazz tempo and assorted inflections brings a certain amount of soothing balm to the experience after two relatively dour opening songs. Nordlund takes an artier turn on “Rilke in the Rain”. Once again, something for everyone – this time literary types who know their poetry well and feel intrigued by his reference in a song. The track itself has a definite trajectory, but pursues its path in a nebulous way that, in the end, deflects its ultimate impact. “Wandering Daughter” has a livelier tempo than many of the album’s songs and the brass has a much stronger presence. These qualities help make it one of the album’s most upbeat tunes. Divide Avenue ends with “Sagatagan”, a final extended piece with carefully arranged sections and transitions that give it a cinematic flavor. Nordlund’s lead guitar playing is particularly melodic here and his work in the song’s first half is a highlight. The song’s midway point focuses more on Larson’s percussion before the second half crescendos with a fire breathing, occasionally dissonant solo. When everything crashes at last, Nordlund’s mournful lead guitar emerges again and concludes things well.

Divide Avenue is one of those albums’s you know you should listen to, don’t expect much from, and blow you out of your chair when you finally hear them. There isn’t a weak song on the album and Nordlund’s frequently towering guitar performance should earn him the reputation as one of the instrument’s supreme stylists.