Influence is the best record of Philip Sayce's career, edging out even last season's impeccably rocking Steamroller. Putting paid the notion that you can keep a good man down, Sayce may not have gotten the breaks with his last outing, but he's kept his nose to the grindstone, and he's combined with his producer and friend Dave Cobb to make yet another brilliant record.
Half covers/half original tunes penned by Sayce and Cobb (who also adds tasteful bass to the tracks), Influence is a brilliant production - it's sonically sensational, the arrangements are just that, and when they went to the library they scoured the shelves for rare nuggets and eschewed the temptation to rest on other hit maker's laurels. If this album doesn't make Sayce a star I'll eat my hat.
Sayce and Cobb revel in producing unconventional tones acquired from vintage instruments and equipment, which results in the perfect mix of modern soundscapes that don't sound like they came off some new digital toy, and organic old-school tones - in fact it's all amazingly musical. Also, as he's done on earlier albums this year by California Breed and Rival Sons, Cobb puts great time and energy into creating interesting and effective vocal arrangements - the use of Kristen Rogers, whose voice I fell in love with last year on some tracks she'd cut with Cobb for a project that unfortunately failed to come to fruition, is just right. Rogers isn't a cookie cutter background vocalist, she puts her distinctive stamp on what she sings, and the result is like that of when the Rolling Stones used female vocals - it adds much substance to the song's listenability. Speaking of vocals, Sayce's are a thing of wonder across the whole of the album - he's grown tremendously as a singer over the years, and again, I'm talking about an artist developing, something that happens all too rarely in this age of instant commercial gratification.
Philip Sayce is most well known as a guitarist, and his playing on Influence displays maturity and growth - his use of melody has never been quite this sweet, and when he goes for the throat he goes with great ferocity. He, maybe better than any "blues rock" musician on the scene, straddles the past and the future, and makes them live together blissfully in this moment. The juxtaposition between old tones and modern soundscapes never sounds forced as it can in so many less capable hands. An old soul in a kid's body.
Tom Devil is a tune that's been heard by millions, though you might not catch it from this massively rocking arrangement that suggests maybe what Zeppelin would have sounded like if they had formed in 2014 instead of 1969, or if Page and Plant could get on the same page today. The tune was an acapella prisoner song in the classic film, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, but the team of Sayce and Cobb have drummer Chris Powell doing his best Bonzo impression, and the tune does an amazing job of straddling a dirge tempo and rocking like hell. Sayce's vocals match mightily with Ed Lewis And Prisoners', and when he takes his solo, prepare to be blissed out by an onslaught of six string histrionics. You can't hear this and not be instantly drawn into this record.
It's hard to get me with a Hendrix homage, but Sayce/Cobb original Out Of My Mind sounds like it fell off the Experience truck and has been suspended in the cosmos right up until Sayce channels it. Philip and Cobb do some wonderfully Hedrixian unison climbs before Sayce goes into another sizzling solo, and dig Cobb's outrageous bass playing on the underside. The tune does a tasty build in beat and speed on the way out, and things just keep getting better.
Next up is the track that sucked me into this album's concept when I first heard it, and it's a bold move - covering Lowell George and Little Feat? Sailing Shoes is a signature tune if there ever was one, but Sayce owns it with his soulful vocals, stinging guitar fills, and here's where you catch Kristen Rogers' first contribution and they ride it out on top of some sumptuous organ work from LA legend Fred Mandel. By now you're going to be wishing you could listen to this album faster - it keeps growing, and you can't wait to hear what's next.
The Sonics were a cultural icon of the sixties, being a big part of the garage rock movement, and though an unlikely choice from what one may have expected from a Philip Sayce record, again this crew knocks it out of the park with an update on I'm Going Home. Where you'd think it might be the Ten Years After classic on a blues rock record with covers, this is anything but blues rock - it's proto punk - this one might just bring on a psychotic reaction. Chris Powell's drums are the unsung heroes of this record, and the guy is just a force of nature with his power, finesse, and incredibly musical fills. To my ears this sounds like what I always thought The Yardbirds should have sounded like this.
Fade Into You is the next original, and for the third time in a row, when I hear the intro I get goosebumps. This is Sayce's lament on the trials and tribulations of the music business, but it could just as easily be a song of star-crossed lovers, which in a fashion I suppose it is. Layers of gorgeous vocals match perfectly with the pastoral organ playing by the man himself, Reese Wynans. The guitars come in to lift the tune into the heavens, and Sayce sounds like he's pulling notes from the very depth of his soul - this might be his best solo yet.
If there's misstep on the record, I'd place it on the straight blues of Don Covay's Blues Ain't Nothing But A Good Woman On Your Mind, but having said that, this is probably the most exciting blues cut you''ll hear this year.
Green Power is a rare Little Richard chestnut, and Sayce and company take this one straight to the electric church, and it kind of makes me miss the blustery genius of Stevie Marriott with its huge vocal, cooed Blackberries-like background vocals, and skronky beats. The power on tap is just awesome, as Sayce makes another oldie brand new. I'm amazed at how much this record sounds like a working band - this is no solo stars' ego trip, this is how it should be done.
|Photo by Josh Winters|
Easy On The Eyes is the next original on tap, and it hails back to the big beat rock energy of Sayce's last album, the excellent Steamroller. Cobb's sonics keep this sounding very up to date and modern, and I think this is where bands like Deep Purple should have ended up. Kristen Rogers damned near steals the tune, and it's all credit due that they let her let her freak flag fly - this is it. How it should be done - yeah, I'm going to keep pounding these points home. I'd scream it if I could.
|Photo by Kirk Saylor|
Chris Powell's awesome snare work rings in Triumph, and when Sayce sings the body electric with his stately guitar intro, bliss is achieved, and it's only getting started. Things slow down and things get pretty and this is probably going to be my favorite instrumental cut of 2014. Sayce's bends and phrasings always sound fresh, he doesn't get mired down by repeating himself - this is a man in a musical moment, and you can quite clearly hear the meditations involved. The business may not always smile down upon the artist, but the artist keeps his feet on the ground, his heart in the heavens, and triumphs.
Light Em Up is the prelude to the end, and it's great stomp towards the finish line. People call Sayce a blues guitarist, but I think he's one of our greatest rockers. When he gets his fingers under a riff he delivers it with great force and passion, and his vocals match it every step of the way. More great vocal production from Cobb, who also supplies some seriously grinding bass tones. This is not ear bud music, people, this music needs to be heard through a some speakers that are being pushed by some wattage. This is stadium sized rock. When you hear the extended fade, you'll come to know why I call Dave Cobb rock's best producer in the year 2014. It's worth the price of the record.
Joe Savage? He's a 70 year old, legendary non-legend of Nashville, and it's a stroke of pure, crystalline genius that he was picked to sing the album closing classic, Peace In The Valley. Written by Thomas Dorsey for Mahalia Jackson, it was the world's first million selling gospel song, and it's been covered by everyone from Red Foley to Elvis, but I'm not sure it's ever been quite this glorious. Savage's vocal is sublime, the arrangement in worthy of The Band, and Sayce deconstructs it beautifully with a stunning solo before he brings it on home to us.
This is a defining moment for Philip Sayce - his last album should have taken him to the top, but when it didn't, he went right back to work and bettered it. He has the best partner one could want in the nearly miraculous Dave Cobb, and they've made what to my ears is the best album I've heard this year, and there's been some great ones. Get on board, buy this, own this, and love this.