The third album from UK Blues duo Ron Sayer and Charlotte Joyce, ‘Makes
You Stronger‘, arrives at Bluesdoodles bulging review desk. Will it
stand out from the crowd, or become another forlorn coaster on which to
adorn copious cups of jump juice ( that’s coffee to you and I )?
Luckily, as it’s on MP3 the coaster conundrum is solved quickly ( and as
if we would have anyway..)plus, with opener ‘Backbone’ you can tell that
considerable effort has been made and we’re moving in a positive
direction. We have brass ( real brass not one finger brass ) and we have
a high in the mix vocal from Charlotte that makes me want to marry her.
No, wait, Ron’s solo makes me want to marry him. Hey, it’s the 21st
What we have here is very talented UK Blues, at the top of the heap.
Some well-crafted tunes, well delivered, and, well, good! Great? Perhaps
not Grammy-worthy, but worth a listen for sure. Second tune ‘Hard Love’,
at five and a half minutes, presents smouldering, atypical current British slow blues. Charlotte’s voice has a classic, slight jazz quality akin to some of the sultry lady blues crooners of old; Sarah Vaughan for example. In particular on this track, whilst not quite reaching Miss Vaughan’s dizzying heights, Charlotte does manage to propel a slightly overdone song style along nicely. Ron’s solo is more flash than feel, but is in keeping with the current demand for speedy flurries.
‘My Life Alive’ with its roomy guitar tone is a barroom shuffle, smokey
and driving. Again, its conventional, safe, and does not present
anything overly original in recorded format, but live this will get feet
and hands tappin’ and bobbin’. Whilst the riffs and themes have been
heard a thousand times before, thankfully the little arrangement quirks
and syncopated stabs keep the ear interested.
‘Life Is What Happens’ is a ‘Tedeschi Trucks’ style of polished medium
tempo ballad with a big brass arrangement. ‘Life is what happens when
you’re making other plans’ sings Charlotte. It certainly does just that. More tuneful neck pickup lead from Ron, this time from the heart a little more than the head. The song, although pleasant and unthreatening, lacks consistent hooks and stand out melodies. A shame as it could have been a stand out track.
‘We’d Both Be Wrong’, a straight-up shuffle with punchy brass and a well-crafted guitar solo is very British and sounds like something Paul Jones would have played to death circa 1993. It’s tight and squeaky clean, missing the raw and grit. None the less, still well played and sung. ‘I Get Up Again’, with its 1-4 chord hook riff is another functional but forgettable ‘heard-it-before’ type theme, rescued by Charlotte’s vocal to some degree. It does make one think that perhaps this was written to satisfy an audience rather than to project artistry. Then again I suppose this is supposed to be a derivative of contemporary UK Blues so ticking the boxes is a job well done.
‘No Galahad’ promises a more country twang but is let down by underwhelming lyrics. A fantastic solo by Ron however, makes this one
for the guitar fans, who, let’s be honest, don’t care much for lyrics anyway and eagerly await the pentatonics. ‘Too Much Too Soon’ has the perfect radio length of just over three minutes, plus a catchy chorus delivers the album’s most hook-laden track so far. DJ’s will go for this one as a showcase. ‘Broken’ gives an interesting forty-five second intro and has some lovely chord changes. At last, the songwriting stands out on this soulful album highlight. Great groove, great organ, great arrangement, good vocal. Some nice phrasing also in the guitar solo.
Final track ‘Needful Things’ is more low fi in production, and in a good
way presents an atmospheric reverb/tremolo guitar film noir delight. A
great way to end. Perhaps this and ‘Broken’ should have been heard earlier in the album to allow for more early variety.
All in all, ‘Makes You Stronger’ is a perfectly fine album. It will not set the world alight or win any innovation awards, but will satisfy already and soon to be fans of the duo very adequately. It is a slight shame however that two so obviously talented individuals cannot progress the genre and forge more originality and interesting tunescapes, such as the album closer, rather than conform to well and over explored themes and ideas. Yes, Blues is about lost love, feeling down etc, but in the development of artistry hopefully, the next Sayer and Joyce release will expand on the solid ideas here and take a few more risks to write the breakout record they deserve.
Well played, well sung, well produced but otherwise functional, Pendragon for Bluesdoodles gives ‘Make You Stronger’ a hopeful
Sevendoodle paws out of TEN …
- Hard Love
- My Life Alive
- Life Is What Happens
- We’d Both Be Wrong
- I Get Up Again
- The Things We Used To Do
- No Galahad
- Too much Too Soon
- Needful Things