Friday, October 4, 2019

Sayer & Joyce - Makes You Stronger

The growing roster of artists on Mike Zito and Guy Hale’s Texas- based Gulf Coast Records includes people from St Louis, Pittsburgh, Las Vegas, Miami – and now husband and wife Ron Sayer and Charlotte Joyce, from Norwich.  That’s Norwich in England, not Massachusetts.
Having seen them live a few years ago, I know how good Sayer and Joyce can be – he’s a top flight guitar wrangler, and she’s a captivating singer and keyboard player.  But now and then, listening to Makes You Stronger, I’m not sure it gives full expression to their talents.
From right to left, Sayer and Joyce - Mr and Mrs Blues
There are a couple of songs about which I have no doubts, most obviously ‘We’d Both Be Wrong’ – as in the saying “I could agree with you, but then we’d both be wrong”.  It has a catchy melody and sparky lyrics, which Joyce delivers convincingly.  But it also benefits from a toe-tapping funky groove, with a cheeky ascending riff that Sayer extemporises over effectively from the outset, before he puts the cherry on the cake with an entertaining solo over flaring horns from Dave Land and Clive Hitchcock – horns that then compete with him to further good effect.
Of similar quality, in a different vein, is the closing ‘Needful Things’.  An intriguing affair with a haunting tune, Joyce nails the expressive vocal, over little more than sparse double bass (also courtesy of Sayer) and the merest speckles of guitar.  Simplicity like this can be tricky to pull off, but they do it brilliantly, abandoning soul-blues stylings to contrive something more distinctive and European in tone.
On early listens though, I found the mix too thin to harness the different elements fully on some songs.  It was only when I stuck in some bloody good earphones and cranked things up that the sound began to hang together on tracks like the opener ‘Backbone’ and the later ‘My Life Alive’.  The former kicks off with a smart, intricate up-and-down riff, and once Charlotte Joyce’s assertively soulful vocal feels properly connected to everything else that’s going on, it comes across as a quality bit of funk-rock, topped off by a scattergun solo from Sayer, even though the horns are pushed too far down.  And on the blues-rocking ‘My Life Alive’, with it’s chunky, winding riff, Joyce’s strong vocal is further enhanced by some double-tracking on the chorus, while Sayer comes up with an adventurous solo, making use of some twangy low notes before darting off in various directions while always staying on point.
Joyce shows off her ability to get slinky on ‘Hard Love', on which a restrained arrangement swells for the chorus and bridge, while Sayer adds a tasteful, jazzy solo.  And ‘Broken’ provides an Aynsley Lister-like slice of soulfulness decorated by some precise and patient guitar.
Somehow though, the likes of ‘I Get Up Again’ and ‘The Things We Used to Do’ have an air of the whole not quite being the sum of its parts.  The former offers some neo-Hendrix links at the start and choppy funkiness, while the latter takes too long to muscle up to a rousing finish.  ‘No Galahad’, meanwhile, lands some punches with a strong Blackmore-esque riff, and Sayer putting his foot on the gas for his solo, but it’s as if there’s a missing ingredient somewhere - perhaps a bigger drum sound to really drive things along and provide more depth.  
There are lots of things to admire in Make You Stronger, as you’d expect from talents like Ron Sayer and Charlotte Joyce.  Sayer has plenty of clubs in his guitaring bag, and puts them to good use, while Joyce has terrific vocal control and soulfulness to boot.  But I can’t escape the feeling that there’s an even better album left in there that somehow hasn’t been fully revealed.

Makes You Stronger is out now on Gulf Coast Records

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