Album Review: RON SAYER JR. & CHARLOTTE JOYCE – Hard To Please

Self release [Release Date: 16.09.13]

If ever there was an album that highlighted the way Euro blues artist are discriminated against by their American counterparts this is it. Had this album been recorded by an Austin band or indeed cut in any other regional musical hot bed of America, it would probably be revered and spoken about in hushed tones. As it is, you suspect ‘Hard To Please’ is an album that probably carries an ironic quality the duo could well do without.

Ron Sayer Jnr. originally established his song writing credentials with Oli Brown and further impressed on his own ‘Better Side’ debut album. He’s a consummate guitarist, strong vocalist and thoughtful song writer and is joined by partner and co-song writer Charlotte Joyce. And Charlotte revels in her step-up from backing vocalist to featured singer, as the pair effortlessly glide through a dozen tracks that dip into rock, soul, funk, blues and country, with the emphasis squarely on deep grooves and quality songs.

Song craft is everything for this duo. They know when to let a groove breathe, the point at which to emphasise a guitar or vocal line and the moment to add a rhythmic push. Ron provides the gruff bottom-end vocals and Charlotte the high-end phrasing, on material that strikes a balance between sophistication and simplicity of expression.

‘Hard to Please’ celebrates clarity of expression. Nothing is forced and the lyrics are phrased with perfect diction, while the solos sparkle but never overstay their welcome, on a well paced album full of musical variety, colourful tones and deeply honed grooves.

The duo pen subtly constructed songs within the blues genre but are never constricted by any labels. ‘Hard To Please’ is a nicely balanced and well produced album that is the result of a fast maturing singer song-writing partnership.

The opening title track duet confidently unravels a song writing team in perfect syncronicity. They alternate lead vocals and effortlessly slip from different yet musically related genres, as on the tightly wrapped funk of the album highlight ‘Cold Shoulder To Cry On’ and the muscular shuffle ‘Wolf In Sheep’s Clothes’. They fatten up the grooves on ‘Off Road’ with some the New Orleans influenced funk and rock out on the potent duet ‘Do You Love Me Like You Love Yourself’.

The lyrics draw you into the songs and there’s a refreshing musical variety as evidenced by the gentle ‘Mr Weatherman’, which brings something different to the album at the half way point.Charlotte expressively phrasing over a subtle funky groove as Ron adds deeper guitar tones and a brief ‘in and out’ solo either side of her emoting.

Ron also digs deep for a measured vocal on ‘No One Left To Blame’ to nuance the emotion of the slow blues. It’s another beautifully crafted and well paced blues with layered organ, a strong rhythmic punch and a clean, crisp toned solo delivered with a delicate touch. ‘One Of Your Looks’ contrasts Charlotte’s vocal flutter with a another funky groove and it’s back to the duet format on the nifty country picking of ‘One Of Your Looks’. The song skips along on the back of drummer Wayne Proctor’s  train-time shuffle, which perfectly complements the alternating vocals of a lived in relationship song: ‘You have a way of pulling on my lead, something much more subtle than a frown, Who could have thought that a glance could say so much, better than a kick, more effective than a touch’.

Charlotte works hard to nail the gospel tinged ‘It Ain’t Up To You’ and Ron adds ‘Tell Me Something I Don’t Know’, one of those acoustic bluesy end-pieces that Tony McPhee used to slip on the end of his concept albums.

‘Hard To Please’ aims high and provides enough great moments to warrant repeat plays. Contemporary roots music never sounded so good.  ****1/2

Review by Pete Feenstra


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