Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Ron Sayer Jr & Charlotte Joyce - Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh, 21 May 2016

I like ‘em.  In fact you’d have to be a real curmudgeon not to like Ron Sayer and Charlotte Joyce.  Here’s why.
Ron Sayer Jr - giving it the treatment
The musicianship is bang on the money, starting with the husband-and-wife out front, on guitar and keyboards respectively.  Sayer is a seriously impressive guitarist, delivering to gobsmacking effect in a range of styles, while Joyce adds colour on keys, not least with her N’Awlins honky tonk contribution to ‘Mojo Boogie’. Meanwhile  their rhythm section of Will Overton on bass and Paul Wooden on drums is tighter than a duck’s rear end.  The latter in particular is one of those drummers who get your attention not just for the rhythms they lay down with the bass, but for the way they interact with the guitar to punctuate matters brilliantly.
Together the four-piece lay down a swinging soul-funk foundation, which they then spice up with material that varies the emphasis.  Right from the git-go they demonstrate a liking for R&B, with a reading of ‘Nutbush City Limits’ that registers well on the raunch-o-meter, and not long after they give Etta James’s ‘My Mother-In-Law’ a whirl, starting quietly before opening up the throttle. Later they produce a spot on Stax-like reading of Lynda Lyndell’s ‘What A Man’.  Their funk leanings also take different twists and turns, from the moody ‘Hard To Please’ to the slinky ‘Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing’.
Charlotte Joyce - on fire
The vocals are pretty damn good too.  Sayer is certainly no bum as a singer – soulful when he puts his mind to it, and on ‘Any Time You Want’ delivering a pin sharp falsetto on a just-for-a-laugh singalong.  Will Overton also takes a couple of turns, surprising us the first time out with the high key he works in for ‘Mojo Boogie’.  But the star in this department is Charlotte Joyce.  Clean and pure on record, she manages to find more depth and strength, delivering a bravura vocal performance on her own composition ‘Mr Weatherman’.  What’s more, on the few occasions when she steps out from behind her keyboard to take centre stage, she has a presence that would give Jo Harman a serious run for her money.
Now I’ll grant you, there are times when matters begin to feel just a bit too easy-going, and could do with a bit more drive.  Partly this is down to their between songs patter, which is all very good humoured but so cosy it could fit into an episode of The Good Life – and no, Ron, managing to say ‘penis’ when introducing Al Green’s ‘I’m A Ram’ doesn’t alter that.  Not even saying it twice.  But fuck it, I enjoyed The Good Life when I was a kid – the real point is that too much chat can dilute the impetus of the music.
In any event none of that matters when they really decide to get down to business.  At the end of their first set Joyce smiles and says it’s time for her husband’s moment of self-indulgence.  Sayer then announces that “I like a bit of Rory Gallagher, actually”, and proceeds to give it the full treatment, getting into full-on gurning guitar hero mode and pulling out all the stops, aided and abetted by Paul Wooden giving it serious welly on drums.  I dunno about the Rory Gallagher reference, but I like a bit of Ron Sayer actually, when he goes for it.

As the set draws to a close they again shift into another gear, with a mash-up of ‘Fire’ by Etta James and the similarly-titled Hendrix ditty.  Playing to all of their strengths – the funky R&B, Joyce’s vocals, Sayer’s guitar, and the two of them getting wild out front – they surely make it live up to the title.

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