Long considered one of the best Blues-Rock guitarists in the business here on mainland Europe, Elsewhere, in Britain and the States, you are most likely to be greeted with a ‘Julian who?’ even from the Blues-Rock community. With ‘Bound to Roll’ his eighth studio CD, Julian Sas may well be about to change all that .
The new CD has taken more than two years to complete, but not because ideas were lacking. “I was writing constantly, but a lot of that went straight into the bin” as he describes the ideas that came and went. What came and stayed however is undeniably the best songwriting of his career to date.
Indeed the first lines of the first song ‘Life on the Line’ lay down the grand plan for the disc: “Someday the world’s gonna know, how you been treating me”. Maybe that should read ‘Someday the world gonna know, how IT’S been treating me’ as it’s Julian’s soul laid bare. Track two, the aptly titled ‘Mercy’ starts off gorgeously with a wah wah flurry of the likes I haven’t heard since the halycon days of ‘Frampton Comes Alive’ and it’s North American Indian groove fits not just the ornamentation on the disc sleeves guitar but also the ‘Warrior’ theme that hammers into track three, ‘Bound to Roll’ with it’s up tempo ‘Radar Love’ riff. This is the sort of boogie number that Sas and band play so well, and when the rhythm section of Tahamata and Heijne join with Sas’ onstage for this one no floorboard will be safe.
‘How could I’ve been so Blind’ is heartfelt lyrically but doesn’t quite grab me. Even rolling out power chords reminiscent of ‘Houses of the Holy’ can’t bring it truly to life. The tracks weaknesses are put into sharp relief by the next one up, which is an absolute stunner. With his version of Gallaghers ‘Shadowplay’ Sas wisely doesn’t try to compete with the G mans soloing, instead he plays it straight and simple. Is that really Sas on vocal? To my ears he’s raised his vocal pitch and the aspirations of the whole Julian Sas Band along with it. The higher vocal gives an urgency that I’ve never heard before. It puts me in Rock n Roll heaven, from where I’m sure Rory G is tapping his toes in appreciation.
‘Swamplands’ can’t help but seem pedestrian in comparison, but it has a sweet swaggering solo to carry it through – and a ‘Black Knight’ riff sitting on top of lyrics about a ‘long way home’. No new ground broken on this track then, but hey, we came to rock and we did! Humble Pie’s ’30 Days in the Hole’ was chosen for it’s gritty riff and indeed it’s more riff than song but with super wah wah and a spot on 70’s feel.
‘The Blues Won’t Stay’ could easily be a Rory Gallagher number with it’s bouncy ‘Hear Me Now’ rhythm and Status Quo are in the blood of ‘Tear It Up’ which will be a popular one live no doubt for the Rockers amongst Sas’ fans (of whom there are many I’m sure).
Every good Rock disc should have a ‘Big Ballad’ and ‘Burning Bridges’ fits the bill nicely. It continues the title theme of rolling on through a life that’s not all sex, drugs, rock n roll: ‘travelling through this dark night’ and ‘finding our way home’. The jangly acoustic slide on ‘Ain’t Backing Down’ continues the journeyman theme and is not a whole lot more cheerful but at least suggests a light at tunnels end a “Highway to the Sun” and the resistant answer: “I ain’t Backing Down”.
Dylan’s ‘Highway 61 Revisited’ is still out on the Highway and newcomers to music would be forgiven for thinking this was a Rory Gallagher cover rather than a Dylan one. Maybe the G man is getting bored with his harp up in heaven? I get the impression he popped down to Earth for a Stratocaster jam session when Julian was laying the guitar part down on this one. Rob Heijne has his work cut out keeping up with the electric pace of a stand-out track. You’ll need the towels for sweat after playing this live guys!
The production on the whole CD, by Julian and Ed Bos, is spot on. It’s a thick, rich sound but each instrument still has room to breathe and be heard.
On the evidence of this, the best Julian Sas CD to date, his days as ‘Europes best kept Bluesrock secret’ are numbered!