Saiichi Sugiyama has been described by some as a Japanese Clapton, and to a certain extent that is borne out by the music on his latest disc, The Smokehouse Sessions. If you can imagine a female fronted version of Cream had decided to get funky and employ Lenny Kravitz, you’d be in about the right place, but it’s a hell of a lot more than a copycat release.
Tonally and in his phrasing Saiichi owes a great debt to the music of the mid 60’s blues boom. His guitar sound is all about a Les Paul into an overloaded Marshall amplifier, and his phrasing is very much taken from early Clapton but with Paul Kossoff’s vibrato. It’s familiar territory, but unlike the other players who take a similar approach none of this seems slavish or forced, it doesn’t seem like a conscious attempt to recreate something that’s already been done, it flows and it’s fiery just like the original article, and I think that a large part of this freshness can be laid at the door of the material the band is performing.
Whereas most acts that take the blues boom approach to music produce songs and records that come across as a selection of rejects cadged from the floor of a Jack Bruce or Plant/Page writing session, this is a band that aren’t afraid to blend and innovate. While it’s hard to put your finger on exactly how they do this, it’s a sense of rhythm, a certain verve, that they bring to the songs, it is readily apparent that they stand out from the pack. It doesn’t sound tired, not even when the two fairly straight covers of Born Under a Bad Sign and Hideaway make it obvious how much Saiichi is enamoured with early Eric.
The record is well produced and everyone turns in a great performance. It’s tight and punchy, with great clarity and separation. It has a very direct sound, and fits in well with it’s lineage, as do many of it’s contemporaries but this has something different. I think it’s the obvious joy that’s on display, everything is played with excitement and passion, and nothing is held back. Saiichi and his band aren’t playing at being Brit bluesmen, they’re living it with every fibre of their being.
People can learn something from this disc. It is OK to ape your mentors, to take from them and produce something closely akin to their work, but only if you do it with all your heart. By doing so you will satisfy both yourself and your listeners, because, when you give yourself to the task fully, it goes beyond simply making a pastiche. That’s what has happened here, The Smokehouse Sessions deftly skirt every trap they could fall into, and give us a joyous, at once familiar and fresh, experience.