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.


The last time rock guitar instrumental albums enjoyed any mainstream popularity was during the 1990’s thanks to virtuosos like Joe Satriani and Steve Vai. The fad ended as quickly as it began around the same time the decidedly non-virtuoso ideals of grunge/alternative rock took hold. Extreme metal bands took over the mantle in the late 1990’s and early 21st century, particularly doom metal bands, but the form as a whole seems consigned to some niche backwater for fellow musicians to appreciate and casual fans to be baffled by. Thomas Nordlund certainly isn’t a member of the Satriani/Vai school of guitar playing and nor could anyone compare him to extreme metal with a straight face, but his debut release Divide Avenue does a first class job of appealing to conventional tastes while still engaging high brow listeners. Its single biggest unifying quality is how Nordlund’s intensely lyrical guitar appeals to the imagination – each of these eight songs has a vivid cinematic quality that was one of Nordlund’s avowed goals from the album’s first conception.

Many of the instrumentals have a mid-tempo pace with a rhythm section unafraid to hold down the bottom in restless, inventive ways. The music’s steady foundation opens the door for Nordlund’s guitar to sweep, snake, and wind its way through the sonic landscape and fill it in with muscle and color. His baritone has an unique sound that commands attention when it enters. Songs like the title cut, “Whiskey Rumination”, “Whispering Son” and “Iron John” have a variety of textures, but they all play out in a very deliberate fashion and never attempt supplanting Nordlund’s guitar as the album’s central instrument. The general mood of the album is downcast, but two notable exceptions are the aforementioned “Whispering Son” and “Ensenada Nights”. The former is a jazzy guitar work out with adventurous backing while the latter explores Latin textures with a light touch.

There is an experimental side to the album emerging, primarily, on two tracks. The first, “Rilke in the Rain”, is practically progressive in how it fails to observe most elements of cohesive songwriting while still accomplishing many of its same goals. Like a novel, movie, or short story, musical works observe their own narrative structures and seek their own resolutions, but this song proves that there isn’t one rule about how a songwriter gets there. The second, “Sagatagan”, is the album’s conclusion and has even more pronounced progressive tendencies. The song, in some ways, recalls Pink Floyd with its expansive musical landscapes and its creative use of space to create more drama.

Instrumental albums don’t come along often anymore and fewer still are memorable. Nordlund’s album is distinguished by many things, but one of its crowning characteristics is its aura. Divide Avenue feels like an album meant to last and a personal statement. There isn’t a second of filler to be found and even less pretention or self-indulgence.