Road Dog 2020
British axeman deliberately underperforms to prepare his audience for crash, boom and bang.
This album’s title – meaning “Ever upward” in Latin – must be a great description for the Somerset guitarist’s creative curve, but it looks the revving of 2019’s "Meets The Dominators" took the veteran to the top of his career, and there’s a need to go down before scaling new heights. Which is why, perhaps, that record’s follow-up provides a respite, a descend of sorts, from the charge of previous years. Yet though the abundance of instrumental pieces may suggest fatigue, Jamie Thyer doesn’t shy away from sonic assault here, supplying infectious riffs in spades.
So if you’re down as well, the hard-rocking opener “Aces And Eights” will pick you up and take you for a ride through the starry night, as Thyer’s throbbing six-string orchestra and Sheldon Gould’s decreasingly reserved voice pump adrenalin into ether until the piece’s sweet chorus releases tension with a slider roll, It also ushers in the irresistibly groovy “Blodwyn” whose rockabilly thump, mellifluous backing vocals and handclaps fuel the familiar tune just as effectively as Jamie’s filigree solo does. Yet despite their romantic contrast and impeccable technique on offer, wordless cuts “Dangerous Vision” or “Meadow Stone” lack development which is required to keep the listener focused, and it’s difficult to shake off a suspicion that, while “Nova” flows on a folk undercurrent to Neverland and further on, “Split Diamond” simply hasn’t been given lyrics.
However, the rawer it gets, as “Manacle Alley” illustrates in style, the better, and “The Cat That Walks By Themself” – where spoken-word intro will give way to Julie Richards’ seductive harmonica and pipes – lays bluesy grime on swagger in rarefied air, too. It’ll take the rumble of “Mr Make Believe” to restore the dynamic balance and let the acoustically tinctured, melancholic “Uno Mas” bring this uneven voyage to a close, but there’s a feeling “Excelsior!” is just a pit stop on the route to something much more impactful.