Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Philip Sayce - Steamroller: Fear Killer First Class

Philip Sayce's Steamroller does just what it promises - it rolls over anything in it's way, wiping out fear, bringing on joy, and rocking like a crossfire hurricane. This record's been out for a while in most of the world, but it just landed on my doorstep and has found its way into my regular rotation.
"On the surface it's about the most beautiful woman in the world, but deeper inside the song, it's about steamrolling fear and doing what's in your heart and soul." Philip Sayce

This is Sayce's fourth solo long player, and Steamroller is a great distillation of his storied past, but much more than that it is a rockin' mother of a record that starts out in high gear and never slows down. Nothing in his discography quite prepared me for the in your face, straight up rock that Sayce, co-writer/producer Dave Cobb (Soundgarden, Jamey Johnson), bassist Joel Gottschalk, and drummer extraordinaire Chris Powell bring to this table. Sayce has finally corralled his huge skill set into an album that sounds like nothing but himself - the influences are discernible, but they've taken a back seat to the star of the show. This is one of the great hard rock records of 2012 - one of the absolute best.

Over the last few weeks, I've taken to playing Steamroller for people, and telling them, "If the new Aerosmith record rocked half this hard, I'll be thrilled." Truth is, that's pie in the sky dreaming, but mostly my point is that this song sounds like where I wish the Boston bad boys would have ended up. It's a brash riff rocker that is picture perfect - Sayce is in great voice, and his guitar playing is tightly focused and full of muscular punch. Cobb and Sayce captured as much of this record live in the studio as they could, and it sounds like it. Powell might be best known as a Nashville session cat, but here he's doing his best Bonzo, and his performance takes this entire set to another level - high octane rock - straight up, no chaser.

Stung By A Woman is another swaggering slab of brutish rock - this isn't blues rock, and it isn't confused about its heritage. When Sayce kicks the solo into gear, it's much closer to classic brit rock than tired SRV posturing that I'm asked to digest from most of the blues rock set. I love a little blues mixed into my rock, but pale imitations have exhausted me, and I'm thrilled by someone stepping up and rocking without apology. This is everything good about arena sized rock.

Sayce has continually grown as a vocalist, and this record is one of the first I've heard by a hot guitar slinger in some time in which I haven't found myself wishing that there were a better singer on board. Marigold is the album's first ballad, and it's some of the strongest rock balladeering I've heard since John Sykes left us in the lurch. This record reminds me a lot of Blue Murder, the great lost record of the '80s. No wonder Sayce has been on Glenn Hughes's mind so much of late. The 'Voice of Rock' recently told me that he's been itching to include Sayce in one of his projects for some time, and expressed great respect and love for Philip's work.

Riff rock is a not easy - in fact, it's a breed of rock that gets harder by the moment. Big slabs of fabulous rock easily fade into cliche, and it's really tough to write a rocker that doesn't sound re-hashed and re-packaged, so when I hear something like Rhythm and Truth, I am extremely grateful. This number rocks blissfully through a cool intro and verse when suddenly Sayce tosses off a few licks that sound like The Yardbirds cum 21st Century - a little Eastern motif, some great hammer-on madness, then it's off into a another dose of what made the 'Smiths of Boston so incredible. Maybe Rocks was playing when he first laid eyes on his first beautiful baby sitter, who knows? Who cares? This rocks - and beautifully.

Black Train is another rockin' testament to some brown sugar - when Sayce and Powell face off on this one, it's some of the finest drum and guitar jousting since Blackmore and Paice showed us how it was done back in the halcyon hard rock days of the '70s. Sayce's solo is pure scorching fireworks, then it eases down into a snare and choral re-intro that is steadily marched back into full rock fury by Powell's amazing stick work. If this don't rock ya, check your pulse.

Funk finds its way into Beautiful, but not in a forced, or stilted way - it is as much James Brown as it is anything, remember when Steven Tyler still 'had it?' Some Worrell approved organ makes it into the mix, and this has me dancing in a cool way - again, not forced, or stilted, this sounds righteously organic.

Holding On could be seen as just another Hendrixian string bouncing chordal workout, but Powell's intense thrashing, and Sayce's confident vocal elevate it beyond the mundane. When Sayce goes into his solo, it's strong and passionate - again, no regurgitating of things from the past, he's found his place in the world and he's clearly gone beyond being someone else's guitarist, or even just another guy playing hot blues rock. These tunes are very true is spirit and intent - you can hear the man in the musician, and that's point of the trip.

The big rock continues with A Mystic, a tune that evokes a plethora of familiar approaches - I find myself remembering the good old days with Eddie VH, Gary Moore when he was still blazing the rock, and generally a time when loud guitars and drums ruled the landscape of rock and roll. This is a wild roller coaster ride that satisfies my hunger for pure and exciting musicianship - Sayce pulls out effects, licks, squeals, squawks galore on this one, and it's an all too brief lesson in guitar heroism.

I really like The Bull - it separates the rock from the wimps. Let's face it, even the coolest, most enlightened muso will occasionally end up on the wrong end of a music business deal gone wrong, and there's been historically no better way to exercise one's demons than with a pissed off lyric, and a loud guitar - "When you fuck with the bull, you're gonna get the horns," indeed. If you can't dig this, well, I hate to say it, but you might just be a....well, I hate to say it, but you may be a pussy.

Aberystwyth is the town in Wales in which Philip Sayce found birth into this lifetime, and this set closing instrumental that closes out Steamroller shows that Mr. Sayce has spent his time well - he's plied his trade quite selflessly for a great many years, he's spent a few years finding his feet as an artist, and has now made a record that should, if the world is right, sound his arrival as a big, bright star.

Photo by Austin Hargrave
Steamroller has been out for some time in the UK, Europe, and Japan - I'm told that its stateside release is imminent. Upon hearing it, I immediately forwarded it to a few friends, including the aforementioned Mr. Hughes, producer Fabrizio Grossi, and a couple of others - turns out they were all about two steps ahead of me, and everyone I spoke with is clamoring to work with, and support the work of this man. I'd suggest you do the same and find yourself a copy of Steamroller asap - it's a slammingly satisfying piece of rock.


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