February 14, 2024

Blues-rock guitarist, singer and songwriter Philip Sayce was born in Wales, but he was very young when his family migrated to Canada, where he grew up. He was raised in an atmosphere of classic rock and blues, learned guitar, piano and trombone when he was growing up, and has been playing in bands since school days. While touring the pubs and clubs in the Toronto area, he was fortunate enough to catch the ear of Canadian guitar wizard Jeff Healey, who drafted the young Sayce into his band, and with whom he toured the world for over three years. Thus the die was cast; Sayce learned his craft and spent several years as a sideman with Healey and in various other bands, notably with Melissa Etheridge.

He was about 30 when he signed to Provogue and started his solo career in earnest, and by that time he was already a seasoned traveller and performer. The Wolves Are Coming is his seventh full album in addition to sundry EPs, and his third after moving to the Warner label, but this one is perhaps the most rooted in his own life and inner turmoil, especially over the Covid period. It powers in with a massive statement of intent though, with the pounding rock of Oh! That Bitches Brew. If the title makes you think of Miles Davis, forget it, think Black Dog by Led Zeppelin instead, with chucks of Whole Lotta Love thrown in. It’s a worthy opener and lead single, and one of the album highlights for sure – there’s a link to the official video at the foot of this page.

photo by Marco van Rooijen

Lady Love Divine follows, which was the album’s second single. This drifts more towards the soul end of the rock spectrum, with its driving, funky drumbeat – Lenny Kravitz is the obvious comparison here, with a flavour of Stevie Wonder’s Superstition too. Sayce showcases his hot guitar licks in the powerful and succinct Babylon Is Burning, which also betrays a heavy influence from Jeff Healey, which can never be a bad thing.

Two heavily-effected rhythm guitars form the backbone of Your Love, one playing a riff with deep wah and another with the tremolo turned up high – this one brings to mind The Temptations’ Shakey Ground, especially Bernie Marsden’s rocked-up version.

The tempo isn’t brought down until track 5, the slow, maudlin blues of It’s Over Now. The longest number in this set, it runs to 5½ minutes, but still sounds like it has been cut short just as Sayce is launching into a screaming solo. Black Moon is almost glam-rock, with an Adam And The Ants-style thudding drum intro and a 1980s biscuit-tin snare, alternating with electronic-sounding heavier sections, which could easily be Muse.

Again, the rock is brought into check by the acoustic guitar ballad intro to Blackbirds Fly Alone, which soon builds into a slow but powerful rock number. It alternates the guitar sounds somewhat, with a clear-toned, coil-tapped solo followed by some astonishing, slick and fast rock guitar lead. Every number has been a Sayce original up to now, until he wheels out a storming version of Albert Collins’ The Moon Is Full. There is absolutely no denying the Jeff Healey influence in this one, which echoes the latter’s See The Light very closely – indeed, Sayce says they used to play this one together on tour, and it’s one of his favourite songs and favourite memories.

Backstabber is the third and current single; a classic pub blues number, with a riff recalling Spooky Tooth or Free. Half a minute from the end though, it lets loose into a head-banging heavy metal rock-out. Intuition is a slow instrumental ballad, which launches into a heavily overdriven section before the guitar solo starts panning crazily around the mix – Sayce says this was the first thing he started recording after being freed from the Covid lockdown, and all his pent-up frustration and energy went int it. Some spooky phase effects follow, then suddenly cut off, literally in the middle of a note, and we find ourselves unexpectedly at the final number.

The conclusion of the album is wholly unexpected, a down-home blues cover of John Lee Hooker’s This Is Hip. Sayce plays acoustic guitar and sings, accompanied by Fred Mandel on boogie-woogie piano. There’s a complete stop halfway through, from which they randomly pick up and get going again. It may come out of left field, but it’s a glorious slice of authentic blues, and the best track on the album for me.

No doubt about it, Philip Sayce sure can play. It’s also great to hear someone plugging in, turning up, and letting loose, in contrast with the modern trend to branch out from a bluesy foundation into the soul-pop world. Nothing wrong with that I guess, but for me, this is the way to play blues-rock.

The Wolves Are Coming by Philip Sayce is released on 23 February 2024 via Atomic Gemini / Forty Below Records