Code7 – Big Guitar Records [Release date 06.09.19]
Just given Larry Miller’s serious health issues alone, ‘The Sinner And The Saint’ double album is a remarkable achievement.
Released exactly three years since his last self-titled album, it’s arguably his most consistent work so far. He reaches for some soul searching intensity with coruscating guitar work on a well crafted rock-blues album. It’s tempered by blues ballads on which he digs deep for his heartfelt emotion.
The duality of the album title is mirrored by the music which shifts from doomed relationship songs to a confirmation of his faith on the lyrically inquisitive style of CD 2.
His imperious guitar playing takes over where his lyrics finish off, as is the case on the defining solo of ‘Women And The Blues’, and he successfully evokes his own inner voice with a gnawing tone and some intricate playing on the outstanding ‘No More Mr. Nice Guy.’
On ‘I May Be Down (But The Kid Ain’t Out)’, he describes himself as: “A 20th century blues man who’s never been so blue,” and goes on to clinch the deal with one of his fiercest solos on a big power ballad.
There’s light and shade too, on the dobro led ‘Black Oak Arkansas Hangman’ (one of three tracks previously to be found on the ‘Larry Miller’ CD). It’s a track full of restraint and underpinned by a percussive, tension building lightness of touch which is belatedly resolved by some searing electric slide over delicate brushstrokes.
He also revels in unplugged mode with some Rory Gallagher style mandolin on another blues relationship song called ‘Your Tears Will Hit The Floor’.
‘The Sinner And The Saint’ flows eloquently from track to track to strike the kind of equilibrium he worked hard achieve in the past. A combination of over singing or simply trying too hard emulate some of his fallen heroes – be they Rory Gallagher or more obviously Gary Moore – deflected the focus from his own talents.
And while he does return to the Moore template for both ‘Rescue Me’ – a moving song full of spiritual enquiry, on which his lyrics are echoed by a tremulous guitar tone – and ‘Ain’t No Love Here Anymore’ – full of another crisp guitar tone over an earthy Hammond – both songs are personal enough to retain their own integrity.
Having perfectly married subject matter with cool arrangements, he delivers an album highlight ‘The Outlawed Name’. This faith driven song has a beguiling musical arrangement that draws us into a ballad full of beautiful interwoven acoustic and keyboards.
He further embellishes the subtly layered track with harpsichord, faux keyboard generated strings and some exquisite guitar work as part of an intricate arrangement.
You might view the first CD as being top heavy with themes of crushed hopes and sadness, but his natural vivacity as a rocker precludes the emotional turmoil from leading to claustrophobia. On the contrary, his guitar playing hits new heights and suggests that despite it all, he still has much more to give.
He’s almost ebullient on the guitar and accompanying keyboard riff of ‘Why Don’t You Believe’ which reminds me of The Beatles ‘Hey Bulldog’. And though his vocal teeters on the brink of being swamped by emotion, he delivers a couple of scintillating trademark guitar breaks to remind us just what we’ve been missing in his absence.
‘Keeper Of The Flame’ is musically different again, benefiting from a potent keyboard arrangement, even if the familiar subject matter again falls in line with much of the relationship blues of CD 1.
No matter, ‘The Sinner And The Saint’ is a triumph in the face of adversity and is a succinct summary of what Larry Miller does so well.
He loves to rock, but not at the expense of lyrical meaning and he also loves to shape a rock-blues ballad and really get inside the song. But he’s at his best when searching out moments of tonal depth that evoke so much more than lyrics ever can.
Perhaps the most telling point on the album comes with the poignantly titled, ‘I Want My Life Back Again’ – an ode to missed companionship – on which he perfectly combines a clean resonant tone with a heartfelt vocal to leave us in no doubt as to his enduring ability.
‘The Sinner And The Saint’ may have taken 3 years to record, produce and whatever else was done in the studio, but it bottles Larry’s oeuvre perfectly to showcase the man, the message and his guitar. ****
Review by Pete Feenstra
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Pete Feenstra celebrated his 300th show in October 2019. Pete heads up a five-hour blues rock marathon when “Tuesday is Bluesday” from 19:00 GMT. Listen out also for his interview-based Feature show on Sundays (20:00 GMT)
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