Saturday, February 17, 2024

Philip Sayce - The Wolves Are Coming

If you’re someone who judges the quality of a guitar player based on the key metrics of: 1) the speed at which they can pick dem strings; and 2), the level of, shall we say, Hendrixity in their style, then I’d say Philip Sayce is going to be near the top of your league table.
As evidence of the former, I submit ‘Backstabber’, a track with a sledgehammer riff and cacophonous guitar sound, reinforced by seismic drums from Michael Leasure, on which Sayce delivers a guitar solo of blistering velocity – before the whole damn thing goes further into overdrive for a short'n'sharp finale like a goddamn drag race.
Play that funky rock music, Philip!
Pic by Amp Photography
As for metric 2, I draw your attention to ‘The Moon Is Full’, an Albert Collins tune that Sayce gives the full Jimi treatment, with rhythmic, funky, choppy, wah-wah inflected riffing, and a solo you could visualise Hendrix delivering on some black and white Sixties TV show.  I mean, I know Sweet Fanny Adams about guitar effects, but I gather Sayce’s pedal board features a few gizmos symptomatic of the classic Jimi sound, and by the sound of The Wolves Are Coming he makes plenty use of ‘em.  Check out, for example, ‘Your Love’, which starts with some Vocoder-ish guitar articulation and ends with a solo encoded in intergalactically “wobbly” tones, all bracketing a mid-paced, lop-sided kinda groove enhanced by some guitar/vocal harmonising.
Which is not to suggest that Sayce is a one-trick pony.  Sure, Hendrix played funky, but ‘Lady Love Divine’ squelches and bumps along happily in a vein more suggestive of Stevie Wonder à la ‘Superstition’.  Although, to be fair, near the end it deploys a very ‘Hey Joe’-like staircase-descending riff to good effect.  Meanwhile ‘It’s Over Now’ is a melodic ballad that kicks off with a hazy guitar sound, builds to a soulful, quasi-anthemic chorus, and features a gentle, bluesier guitar solo.  And ‘Blackbirds Fly Alone’ combines acoustic strumming, some more brittle guitar tone, and swirling, phased vocals.  There’s a nice bit of dynamics, dropping down for Sayce to solo, and if he then gets his wail on for the conclusion, it’s without going OTT.
Opening track ‘Oh! That Bitches Brew’ sets out Sayce’s stall, with a distorted, push’n’pull guitar riff and distorted vocals too for good measure.  It’s driven along by pounding drums from Leasure, who is well suited to this kind of modus operandi, before some descending chords herald a yowling guitar solo, interrupted by a neo-psychedelic, “merman I shall turn to be” type interlude.  But Sayce’s ability to get heavy with some different engine components is demonstrated later by ‘Black Moon’, which is propelled by a boom-da-da-boom glam rock stomp suggestive of The Black Keys in El Camino mode, with well and truly fuzzed up guitar chording for good measure, complemented by an off the wall tone that produces an acupuncture-by-guitar Sayce solo.
The closing coupla tracks offer contrasting moods.  The instrumental ‘Intuition’ starts off mellow, all moonbeams and starlight embellished by keyboard flavourings from Fred Mandel, then it steps into a grinding riff, full of foreboding, as the backdrop to some no-holds-barred guitar acrobatics that reach a whooshing conclusion.  Then the closing ‘This Is Hip’ is a perky, relaxed little blues, penned by John Lee Hooker but not in his typical brooding mood.  Instead it’s all easy acoustic guitar and rippling piano, and might have been better positioned as a mid-album palate cleanser, but it still makes for a breezy finish
In the midst of all the guitar wrangling Sayce is actually a pretty good singer, by the by.  But then, y’know, singing and lyrics probably aren’t why Philip Sayce fans will be shelling out for The Wolves Are Coming.  They’ll be holding their breath waiting for some kitchen sink guitar work driven by metrics 1] and 2] above.  And they won’t be disappointed.
The Wolves Are Coming
 is released on 23 February, and can be ordered here.

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