Sayer is something of a one-off. Like Cliff, he’s had worldwide hits across several decades. But best of all, though he respects his earlier work and his followers’ love of the same, Leo doesn’t stand still. Chatting at one of his previous tour dates over here in England, post-gig, he is gracious enough to say that he rated the interview piece we had done when I spoke to him in Australia ( AND had sent it to the likes of Stevie Nicks and other pals !) but most of all he wanted to talk about his new songs and the album that he was then making. And would I review it ? So here it is, and yes, of course ‘Restless Years’ does include a couple of cuts Sayer had slipped into his last tour set and that I had noted.
Some of the songs – eg the album title track are joint compositions with Albert Hammond, with whom I struck a deal at his Ronnie Scotts showcase some years ago over performing his ‘Not In My Name’ ! What a songwriting partner ! but Sayer is a big deal and can do such things…lyrically, Leo is all over the place on this set – DJ’s, love, the environment, reflections on life…which is fine because the songs vary in tone and dynamics as is appropriate. Whatever route or particular song(s) that initially connect you to Sayer, there are plenty more that you are sure to enjoy and grow to love. He picks up new fans from all age groups just by being around and working hard. Not that he makes all this look like work, as we know it! The energy he puts out draws you in….
Lead cut ‘Beautiful Year’ is set to a semi-martial chime, Sayer having keyed the tune just so puts the song over in a conversational way, no shouting or melodrama. Would make an ace song for Cliff to record ! Cruising Hammond ads to the organic vibe. Classy..and when he ups the vocal ante for the chorus, it still sounds clear and unstrained. A subtle guitar is a cool touch and by this time. Leo is testifying with an almost Dylanesque touch…
A sort of nod to Steely Dan electric piano passage leads into ‘Competing With A DJ’, a muscular funk workout. Sayer briefly turns into Curtis Mayfield here and there, I kid you not ! Philly orchestration completes the sonic vista. Hypnotic stuff, Sussex boy! The warmth of ‘How Did We get So Old’ is captivating..only Sayer and Gilbert O’Sullivan can pull this sort of thing off. Old timey instrumentation is employed here, to great effect. Sardonic lyrics, too. Track three and we’ve been all kinda places….
To ‘Revolution of the Heart ‘ – not the old Sharks album closer – is a reflective song and urges a spiritual stance for self-improvement. Lovely song, guitars and keys playing off each other. A single, maybe ? ‘Millennium Wheel’ will has steady expansive chord changes and a London story. Possibly the best vocal on this set ? Absurdly catchy,too. ‘Restless Years’ has raspy harmonica – low-keyed – and classic chord progression and a gorgeous melody..very similar to the current work of our great pal Charlie Landsborough, soft country rock with a nice electric bassline reminiscent of Poco.
‘One Green World’ is led by eerie bluesy guitar and soft electric piano, Sayer taking on the bad side of humanity and crap choices some make as regards behaviour. Hell is other people, Leo…an eternal truth. Yet he doesn’t sound preachy, just genuinely concerned. Suddenly we are in a Steely Dan ‘Gaucho’ album / reggae tempo – how did that happen? A crisp horn arrangement edges in to complete the picture. Will those who NEED to hear this message get to hear it? one can only hope…
More storytelling on ‘The Wrong Man’…it’s almost like the material Leo gave to Roger Daltrey in early days. Tuneful anger and a rocky backdrop. My favourite cut, for what it’s worth, mate. Radio-friendly number ‘Look Around’ puts optimism up front. Pure Sayer. Love the slide guitar intro to moody swamp rock song ‘ The Radio Song’, the female chorale heard again to fine effect. Song titles are woven into the lyric..even my favourite song of all time is mentioned ! Psych blues…what more could this humble scribe wish for ? best song of its kind since ‘Home Is In My Head’ by the wonderful Jackie Lomax.
‘Something Things Go Wrong’ is Leo in confessional mode ; ‘To The River’ hits the Bo Diddley beat ; closer ‘Mister In Between’ is initially chilly and trumpet-soaked. Just how many atmospheres can this collection include ? this one is the closest Sayer gets to Randy Newman, I suggest. Guitar solo that just ices it.
A fabulously varied album which just adds to the legend of the English guy who can write internationally AND sound comfortable doing it.
Leo Sayer’s ‘Restless Years’ is out now. For all tour dates visit: www.leosayer.com
(Thanks Lisa, Mike, Glenn)