This isn’t the first album by Hadden Sayers, but in some ways it might as well be. Between 1995 and 2004, he released five records, all of which seemed to disappear around the time he did. For a while there, he actually retired from making music, until he hooked up with Ruthie Foster to play guitar in her band. That brought the bug back, and Sayers is in business again with a rock-solid new effort, Hard Dollar.
Hadden Sayers' Hard Dollar
As a songwriter, Sayers manipulates classic tropes, from blues, R&B, and rock into something not quite new, but plenty fresh. Melodies and hooks are his strengths, along with passionate vocals and a plethora of guitar licks. Hard Dollar showcases a variety of approaches to the blues, but is consistently engaging and enjoyable. One song does stand out above and beyond the others, though. For the most part, Sayers gets in and gets out, gearing his musical statements to three-minute blasts of hook-filled, energetic songs the way they did it back when people bought 45 rpm records.
But for “Room 155,” he stretches out to the seven-minute mark, and creates an epic slow blues of misery and mystery. This isn’t the first time a blues singer has wallowed in the pain of losing a lover, nor the first time a blues song was set in a motel room. But Sayers never quite lets us know which side he’s on. Is he being left by his wife or his mistress? Either way, he blames nobody but himself: “it’s hard to know what’s wrong or right when you don’t care about tomorrow night.” After three verses explicating the pain, he turns to his guitar to feel alive again. Building up over several choruses in intensity and storytelling power, Sayers proves to be as capable of providing an extended and complex solo as he is of knocking out a short and sweet idea.
Lap Of Luxury
Another highlight of the record is “Lap of Luxury,” a nifty blues with minimal backing and lots of empty space, slowly filled up by his bandmates (Dave DeWitt on organ, Mark Frye on bass, and Tony McClung on drums). Again, he provides a slight twist on an old idea. There have been blues songs about being a kept man before, but they are rarely so directly pleased about it. “I got a wealthy woman keep me living in the lap of luxury/wake up in the morning thinking how lucky can one man be.” His guitar solo is short and slickly tasteful, too.
Sometimes, when he moves away from strict blues, Sayers sounds a bit reminiscent of rocker John Hiatt. The enjoyably jazzy pop song “Flat Black Automobile” is one such occasion; the strange “Hippie Getaway” is another. The latter takes the concept of Hiatt’s “Memphis In The Meantime” as a jumping-off point. It’s time for a married couple to hit the road and get away from their overly familiar surroundings. But, once they hit the road, they are moving in a direction far away from Hiatt’s hunt for soul. Instead, it’s jam-band territory, albeit a boogie fueled by the style of Canned Heat. Sayers nails the guitar explosions necessary to get that ride going at top speed.
At other times, Sayers is firmly in Texas territory, with a grasp of the shuffles played so famously by Stevie Ray Vaughan or his brother Jimmie in the Fabulous Thunderbirds. “Inside Out Boogie” sounds like a record that could have influenced either of those two if it had appeared on a jukebox 45 from 1961. But it’s a Sayers original, as are all the other songs here. His images aren’t original, but they work. His baby is a firecracker, she’s a jalapeno pepper. His guitar solo rolls into a perfectly constructed brief statement: “She’s a sweet little baby, she’s driving me crazy/my baby turned me inside out.”
“Crush on You” and “Burnin’ Up” also visit that shuffling sound, though the latter adds a hotter, nearly Led Zeppelin sounding approach for variety. “All I Want Is You” is an old-fashioned Texas R&B waltz with his vocals describing his love, and his guitar describing his lust. Foster comes in for a comfortably warm and inviting duet on “Back to the Blues.” “Take Me Back to Texas” and “Sweet Texas Girls” fulfills the mandate that Sayers sing about his home state and how it’s better than everywhere else, though both of these songs blur the border between blues and country music to strong effect. The album ends with “Money Shot,” a spirited, rocking instrumental which leaves us wanting more music from Sayers.
Steve's Bottom Line
At his website (www.haddensayers.com), Sayers has all his past recordings available for sale, as well as this one. This is one talented singer, songwriter, and guitarist, and it’s nice to have him back at the top of his game. (Blue Corn Music, released June 21, 2011)