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Not only have I listened to, and already reviewed, the brilliant Rosco Levee and Brothers Groove albums this month I am now privileged to be doing the same with a new release from the Saiichi Sugiyama Band. My eyes are really being opened to the amount of quality blues players around at the moment. It's such a shame that modern mainstream media and the public seem to think this genre begins and ends with Joe Bonamassa because quite frankly many of these guitarists could certainly teach him a thing or two. What's even more frustrating is that I haven't heard of some of them before and Saiichi Sugiyama is no exception. Born in Tokyo, he has spent most of his life in England and has been releasing material since 1989. Being described by Time Out magazine as "a Japanese Bluesmaster" is just about nigh on a perfect statement. He plays so brilliantly his Les Paul might as well be surgically attached to him. This is no throwaway comment though as he has collaborated with the likes of Pete Brown, Clem Clempson and Malcolm Bruce, plus former members of Bad Company, John Mayall's Bluesbreakers and The Rory Gallagher Band. Believe me, this guy absolutely rips on the guitar.

'The Smokehouse Sessions' was originally conceived as a demo video project but the quality of the audio was so good it was decided to release it as an album, so what we're being treated to here is seven tracks (four originals from Saiichi's previous releases and three Cream/Bluesbreakers covers) of awesome blues and American soul recorded live in the studio. Not only is Sugiyama's guitar work exquisite but he is also joined by an incredibly talented band. Female vocalist Rietta Austin has an outstanding blues/soul feel to her voice and absolutely nails the singing. Rick Biddulph (rhythm guitar), Ben Reed (bass) and Mune Sugiyama (drums) are all superb as well. It's an absolute joy to be able to listen to a recording like this and know there are no 'tricks', just five people playing together in a studio. I wish it was done more often and that these people got the recognition they so deserved.

All four originals prove that Sugiyama has a great knack for writing and collaborating on top tunes. They are instantly catchy and feel like long lost family members turning up on your doorstep. Likewise, the three covers are extremely good with just enough individuality thrown in to make them a little different. No mean feat in the blues genre. I've always loved the blues but this reviewing lark has really got me appreciating this music in a whole new and deeper way. And even though I'm annoyed I've never heard of Saiichi Sugiyama before, at least I know I can now delve into his back catalogue with absolute conviction that I'll be totally entertained. 'The Smokehouse Sessions' very nearly achieved top marks, but at 30 minutes it's just too short!
Cedar Mountain Music
Review by Rick Tilley
27th Jan 2014
1) Somewhere Down the Road
2) What's Going On?
3) Is That You Babe?
4) A Cellar Full of Noise
5) Born Under a Bad Sign
6) Hideaway
7) Sitting on Top of the World
"He plays so brilliantly his Les Paul might as well be surgically attached to him."