“The Smokehouse Sessions” – Saiichi Sugiyama

2 stars (out of 5)

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The Smokehouse SessionsAs you can see from the star rating at the top of the page, I have some problems with this album.  The problems aren’t with the quality of the performances because, predictably, those are all very good, particularly Saiichi Sugiyama and the singer Rietta Austin, who are both superb throughout.  The problems I have are about why the album was ever released, and if it’s actually an album in any real sense.  It’s only seven songs long and four of those songs have appeared (in different versions) on earlier studio albums, while the remaining three are third-generation (at least) covers of blues standards.

The story behind the album is that “The Smokehouse Sessions” started out as a demo video project which was recorded live in the studio.  I’m totally supportive of bands who rehearse a full album’s worth of material before recording live; it brings an immediacy that it’s difficult to replicate with multi-track techniques (although I might make an exception for Henrik Freischlader).  That wasn’t what happened here; someone listened to the final mixes of the project and decided that this was worthy of release as an album.

I’ve tried listening to this on a couple of reasonably decent audio systems and I still have to say that the rhythm section sounds really murky.  To make the problem even worse, this is most noticeable on “Somewhere down the Road”, the first track on the album; it’s really difficult to recover from that kind of start.  I appreciate that, in the current situation in the music industry, it’s crucial to make the most of every opportunity, but I really don’t believe this deserves to be a full album release.  As I said earlier, this is no criticism of the performances, particularly those of Saiichi Sugiyama and Rietta Austin.  If these seven tracks were released as part of a limited edition disc, it might be justifiable, but this just isn’t on.

If you want to really appreciate Saiichi Sugiyama, then listen to the studio albums, “Saiichi Sugiyama”, “So Am I” or “Saiichi”.  Even better, you could go along to a live show and see what he can really do.  This might be one for the committed or the late 60s/early 70s blues revivalists, but I don’t think it’s going to win any new fans.

Release date 27/01/14 on Cedar Mountain Music (CMM 25-5762).