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If today’s commercial radio offerings leave you cold and screaming for a guitar-driven rock record that would get your blood up, look no further than Spirit Rising from acclaimed Canadian blues/rock guitarist Philip Sayce.
Sayce, who was born in Wales but grew up in Toronto, has been making international waves since 2015 when he released Influence, his major label debut for Warner Music.
The Toronto Star, in its review of Influence, described the record as being powerful enough to turn Sayce into Canada’s next homegrown guitar hero.
In the years that followed, which have included tours with Deep Purple and ZZ Top, he has only added more fuel to the fire.
And now comes Spirit Rising, arguably his best record yet. Played at sufficient volume, I suspect your speakers might start to smoke.
Sayce, who first cut his chops with Jeff Healey and Uncle Kracker before logging four years with Melissa Etheridge’s band, plays hard and heavy on this record, reaffirming his status as one of the best guitar players out there. It also reaffirms the influence that artists like Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Eric Clapton had on him growing up.
There’s some amazing fretwork on this set, but there’s much more to this record than that. Sayce had some things he wanted to say here about what he has been through the last few years and where it’s taken him musically.
“Over the past two years, I have faced some of the most challenging experiences of my life. Many of the songs on this album reflect the struggles and wisdom I have gained during this time, and I knew that I needed to take charge of this record to fully realize my vision.”
The process began with Sayce returning to his roots in their rawest form.
“The initial approach in the studio wasn’t dissimilar from how I made (2006’s) Peace Machine,” Sayce explains. “For at least half of the songs on Spirit Rising, I set up my amplifiers in the live room with drummer Michael Leasure, so there was lots of bleed in the mics, very live sounding. We approached playing the songs and grooves just like we do live and shaped what was working from there.”
- Philip Sayce’s love affair with the guitar began at an early age when his parents introduced him to the music of Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jeff Beck. “I have such distinct memories listening to these incredible musicians. Their music had a huge effect on me.”
- Sayce's first live music experience was an Eric Clapton gig at Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens.
“This groovy version of Crossroads had such an impact on me. It was that musicianship that laid the foundation for me. What Clapton did was very different from what many younger artists do today. It was about spilling your heart out.”
Sayce wrote much of the material on Spirit Rising but also collaborated with a number of other songwriters. Included in that cluster were Richard Marx, the L.A. writing team/band Distant Cousins and Toronto’s Gavin Brown and Maia Davies.
Also featured here are covers of material by two of Sayce’s blues heroes, Lightnin’ Hopkins and Magic Sam, and a song by his mentor Jeff Healey.
The blues are alive and well here, but Sayce likes to mix it up, and he certainly does just that.
“To me, rock, blues, jazz and hip-hop all come from the same family tree,” Sayce says. “So, I most often describe my sound as roots music because it contains influences from all of those elements. At the same time, I want to take my sound in new directions that reflect who I am, where I am and where I’m heading next.”
And that will most definitely be an interesting journey.
Choice tracks on this set include Fits Me Good, Black Roller Coming, Once, Oh My and One Foot On The Gravel.
Spirit Rising will be released in Canada on April 24 but you can sample tracks now on iTunes, Spotify and Amazon Music.
(Rating: 4 out of 5 stars)
Doug Gallant is a freelance writer and well-known connoisseur of a wide variety of music. His On Track column will appear in The Guardian every second Saturday. To comment on what he has to say or to offer suggestions for future reviews, email him at email@example.com.