Provogue [Release date 25.08.14]
‘Influence’ is a curious but enjoyable album that finds guitar slinger Philip Sayce in tandem with busy producer Dave Cobb searching out different musical directions.
By busy, I mean Cobb is an in demand producer (Rival Sons and California Breed etc) – who also plays bass on this album – and his production style tends to throw everything into the mix. By curious I mean that having impressively established himself a solo artist with albums like ‘Peace Machine’ and ‘Innerevolution’, Philip Sayce appears to be drawing breath and paying homage to some of his influences, hence the album title.
There’s a tip of the hat to Clapton, Hendrix, Kravitz and SRV, covers by Little Richard and Little Feat, as well as re-jigged blues standards. The result is a far more exploratory album than you might expect, as his search for identity pulls him in new and exciting ways. Surprisingly perhaps for a bristling guitar player, with the exception of ‘Evil Woman’, it’s the more restrained tracks that make the biggest impact.
It would be interesting to know which songs came first, the covers or the originals? As it happens, both sources balance themselves out, with the Sayce/Cobb penned ‘Fade Into You’ and the beautifully crafted bluesy instrumental ‘Triumph’, being matched by a funky cover of Lowell George’s ‘Sailin’ Shoes’ and a stellar version of Graham Nash’s ‘Better Days’.
For the rest, the album is embellished by deep tones, plenty of bluster and a handful of self penned songs that derive their substance from Philip’s unfettered guitar playing. ‘I’m Going Home’ for example, has an incendiary finish in keeping with the song’s high octane arrangement, but it flatters to deceive, as it lacks a requisite depth.
‘Influence’ is a restless and exciting album full of variety, even if the latter does sometimes threaten to obscure Philip’s core musical direction. On the other hand, his inspired trio interplay and rich tones give the album a sheen and spark that will be enough to satisfy long time fans.
He builds things up slowly from a sludgy stomp and sledgehammer arrangement of the traditional ‘Tom Devil’, which is hindered by impenetrable call and response vocals. The subsequent Hendrix influenced urgency of ‘Out Of My Mind’ is much better and helps to inject the album with some welcome clarity. The track rocks out with real intensity, psychedelic guitar riffs and a cymbal heavy push from drummer Chris Powell.
It’s a style that he later revisits on the riff-led, guitar and vocal double lines of ‘Light ‘Em Up’. The heavy duty feel is counterbalanced by the surprising delicate guitar touches among an array of resonant tones, as he stretches out with drummer Powell. The same guitar/drum combination is also at the heart of ‘Evil Woman’, which builds from a mesh of distorted tones and feedback into another riff heavy piece before a final shred.
‘Influence’ draws on a wide range of musical pulses and the album is wisely anchored at the halfway point, when he leans into a ripping version of Don Covay’s ‘Blues Ain’t Nothing But A Good Woman On Your Mind’. It’s another good example of Philip’s intuitive ability to bring his own inimitable style to bear on a contemporary arrangement of traditional material.He closes with Mahalia Jackson’s ‘Peace In The Valley’, on which guest vocalist, Joe ‘chain saw’ Savage, has his vocals annoyingly mixed too far back. Nevertheless, it’s a cool way to bookend a high octane album, with a slow building climactic bluesy finale, and a hint of a psychedelia, natch!
‘Influence’ isn’t quite Philip Sayce’s defining album, but it’s a mature work by a fine guitarist and blues-rock artist who diffidently straddles both genres before leaving his own indelible stamp on the genre with his closing solo. ****
Review by Pete Feenstra
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