Mike Zito is growing the Gulf Coast Records roster at quite a pace…and, as a guitarist, I have heaps of respect for if he signs them then they are worth listening to. The latest recruits are British and have remastered and released their third album on the aforementioned label… Sayer And Joyce are the artists in question and are no strangers here at Bluesdoodles and previous articles are available via that magnifying glass search thingy to the right of the menu bar.
Interestingly, when I look back at reviews of Makes You Stronger’s first release, there were some who felt that there was nothing new brought to the blues table…well, my initial reaction is “So What?” After all, most compositions have inspiration from a genre or artist; some are copied but adapted and some are just plain plagiarised so I always look deeper into a song and look for originality in the overall sound, the modifications to recognisable inspirations and if the totality is pleasing then it is still a damn good track. Listening again to Ron Sayer Jr and Charlotte Joyce, I can honestly say that I find the whole album a delight to listen to and any ‘unoriginal’ themes are cleverly woven into a totally original whole. Take the opening track, Backbone, for example, it has a brilliant riff that has a complexity and a sound very reminiscent of Highball Shooter off Stormbringer but it has a Sayer touch that makes it unique and it becomes a compliment to the original and this brass inflected tune is a rollicking way to start. With Sayer’s deft guitar touches throughout and a brilliant solo added to the simply lovely vocal capabilities of Joyce bringing everything together, it is a accurate guide to their slightly retrospective but always classy approach to blues, funk, rock, soul and gospel that you will find intermingling across this fine album. The second track, Hard Love, is slow blues with a hint of jazz from the smoky vocals and a great backline; this is quality with a capital ‘Q’. The guitar speaks volumes too with some neat phrasing behind the vocals and then a solo that is superb with a single note, chord and runs combination that works so well and I doubt there was a string or fret unused as Ron traverses the fretboard admirably.
My Life Alive stays in the blues with a shuffle that starts with some neat guitar before the riff kicks in and a Hammond fleshing out the background. It sounds a little like a ‘written for live audiences’ with its bounce and a chorus you have to join in with…think DC Purple again. I loved the guitar solo with its mix of attack although it is woefully short for me. Life Is What Happens moves territory into a mild country blues with the Hammond and guitar in harmony to lay down a ballad-like approach and with the brass adding depth to a story that is worth listening for…lyrically smart lines that you can relate to. Another solo of taste and feel from Ron lifts it beyond most ballads of this ilk…although I would have preferred it to last a lot longer (is this a theme?!) We’d Both Be Wrong is a shuffle that could have been written in the 50s or 60s but brought bang up to date with the stylish guitar, solid backing and entrancing vocals. Me being me, I’d have preferred more guitar solos but the trumpet and sax actually do a damn good job with Ron taking over just before they fade. I Get Up Again brings some SRV styled funk to the menu and combines to make a strong and lilting song with a (very short) solo putting the cherry on top. The Things We Used To Do is a guitar master class as Ron weaves so many techniques through a brass infused slice of slow(ish) blues as Charlotte people watches with a vocal melody that is as unpredictable as it is fascinating. His bass work on this one is worth paying attention to too as it cleverly echoes the basic melody…but the lead solo is the star and I could listen to those sustains, runs and bends forever. No Galahad has a riff that has echoes of Blackmore and soon draws you in; then a solo that is pure Sayer and is simply brilliant with country twangs and rock histrionics all melded together so that it works in an unpredictable way…too short!
Too Much Too Soon is a mid-paced blues with Hammond backing to a typical Ron chord structure that is simple and yet works so well. The vocal is jazzy and has tone and feel even when Charlotte sings about the modern curse (cell phones…is it me or is ‘cell’ ridiculously apt?). Broken has swirling Hammond again behind that irresistible guitar…Ron is so adept at using the whole of the guitar in such an expressive way that many players could take a lesson from him…especially if the solos were longer: this is still a standout track with meaningful contributions from all of the band. The album closes with the slow reverb-laden guitar of Needful Things and a heartfelt vocal that doesn’t reflect the Steven King story thankfully! Instead, it is a tale of loss that the guitar echoes with some unique chord patterns and no solo…just atmosphere by the bucket full.
You may have gathered by now that I am a huge fan of this duo’s work and whilst I cannot deny that some phrasing and structures are familiar, it is chock full of originality and quality throughout. This remastered version has cleaned up the sound and production a little so if you don’t already own a copy then this is definitely the one to go for. An album of such classy guitar and vocal performances that deserves to be heard so, do yourself a favour and get a copy and revel in the depth of feeling the pair put into every note.
NINEdoodle 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
(Fumble fingers time and instead of the lead off track, I hit the one above in iTunes…in this case I was rewarded with a slice of quality electric blues courtesy of Savoy Brown and Close To Midnight from their excellent Witchy Feelin’ album.)
Ron Sayer Jr: guitars, bass
Charlotte Joyce: vocals, Hammond B3, piano
Paul Wooden: drums
Dave Land, Clive Hitchcock: brass
Charlotte Joyce Choir: backing vocals on Life Is What Happens