Cavalier [Release date 18.03.16]
‘Coming Home’ is an aptly titled, solid rock-blues album with southern rock edges and spiritual references. It incorporates Holland’s leading rock-blues guitarist Julian Sas’s penchant for gritty vocals, evocative guitar playing and anthemic blues balladry.
It could almost be a concept album, in as much as it feels like a restatement of who is, expect he’s added keyboard player Roland Bakker to fatten the sound and underpin his songs with a deeper emotion.
Apart from the new sounds, this album is everything you would expect from the Walter Trout influenced guitarist, who has matured enough to place greater emphasis on songs and guitar tones, over a variety of rock/blues, boogie, shuffles and slow blues. The album is underpinned by subtle dynamics that keep his essential riffing, picking and slide playing at the core of 11 tracks of masterful rock/blues.
What’s missing is simply that there aren’t quite enough killer songs to take the album up a notch from being tasteful to being essential.
The closest he gets to doing so is on the slide led ‘Brighter Days’, as a combination of ascending chords and an imposing slide solo mirrors the lyrical aspiration of the song.
‘The Road is My Companion’ similarly makes the most of a nuanced musical arrangement, as the bustling blues-rocker again evokes the restless theme of the lyrics. It’s symptomatic of a well worn style that still has the ability to spark, as his fluid guitar playing rises above a layered sound.
At his best, Sas has a gift for weaving his guitar playing into his lyrical vision, as evidenced by the closing ‘Walking Home With Angels’. His delicate guitar tone, restrained vocal phrasing and an uplifting hook hovers over a sweeping organ and a climactic wailing guitar line to bring home the full meaning of the song title.
The rest of this enjoyable album has its moments, but doesn’t quite light the fuse in the way you hope. The opening boogie influenced ‘Jump For Joy’ is a business like shuffle on which he actually announces the first solo break with: “lets get down to it”, before some fine organ and guitar interplay.
Some of his philosophical enquiries on ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’, are closer to a statement than question: “well we understand what we are looking for” His subsequent emotive answer comes from his tremulous guitar and Bakker’s keyboards rather than his lyrics, meaning he falls just short of a complete resolution.
‘Fear Of Falling’ is a 7 minutes plus, blues ballad about loss and things left unsaid: “the pain and all the lyin’”. It plays both to his strengths of a delicate touch and tone, but exposes his lyrical weakness as the song ultimately fails to engage us emotionally enough to fully embrace the song’s concept.
While some of his material doesn’t quite hit the spot, the title track does provide him with a double lyrical and musical resolution.
Julian tells us: “I know where I’m going and feel what I have to do”, a sentiment he expresses cleverly via a sudden drop down to acoustic & back to electric with echoes of Skynyrd.
The album picks up its momentum via an undulating flow, born of the contrast offered by tracks like ‘End Of The Line’. The lovely picking and enveloping slide builds up to a feverish finale. He goes on to mine a few Alvin Lee riffs and a Robin Trower style brooding tone on ‘Shame On You’, but saves his best for last, on the slow build and significant chord changes of ‘Brighter Days’ and the equally impressive Skynryd influenced anthem ‘Walking Home With Angels’, which is topped by a defining slide solo.
Julian Sas has moved on from the days of simply releasing a guitar driven rock/blues album. He’s matured as a song writer and is now an established artist searching to broaden his musical goals. And while some of the material doesn’t always convince, there’s enough spark and commitment to please both die hard fans and newbie’s alike. ****
Review by Pete Feenstra
Pete Feenstra presents his Rock & Blues Show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Tuesday at 19:00 GMT, and “The Pete Feenstra Feature” on Sundays at 20:00
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