Rolling Stone, #286 – By Dave Marsh.
The J. Geils Band has by now virtually abandoned the plundering of R&B and blues resources that were its original stock in trade. But that doesn’t mean the group is rootless. Without the stylized soul covers, there’s room to incorporate elements of Motown and doowop into a more personal sound that balances Seth Justman’s keyboards against J. Geils’ guitar and Magic Dick’s harmonica, while holding lead singer Peter Wolf’s tendency to mug in check.
Sanctuary feels like a transitional album. Though it lacks the sense of breakthrough delivered by Geils’ original hard-rock attempt, Monkey Island, it still progresses beyond the concepts advanced there. Like Bruce Springsteen’s Darkness on the Edge of Town, the new record fuses an East Coast sound with West Coast production values. Producer Joe Wissert has added clarity without interfering much with the band’s gut-level power.
What’s made Geils’ switch to a type of hard rock necessary and what’s made it possible is the development of Wolf and Justman as a songwriting team. There’s less reliance now on the kind of silly novelties that fed all the worst impulses of both the group and its audience. But Wolf has too much feeling for street-corner vernacular to lose his wit. The numbers here that stick closest to hardnosed R&B (”Wild Man,” “Jus’ Can’t Stop Me,” “Take It Back”) are full of his deliberate non sequiturs.
Wissert’s biggest achievement is providing J. Geils with a vocal structure as interesting as its current instrumental approach. At the end of “I Can’t Believe You,” Peter Wolf and Seth Justman engage in a Righteous Brothers exchange that’s powerful and pure. In parts of “Teresa” and “Sanctuary,” Geils is as much a vocal group as a rock & roll band.
Because these musicians are attempting to make music that isn’t easy to categorize, this LP has been almost ignored. Yet the J. Geils Band is now playing and creating with great skill and passion. At first, “Teresa” seems completely unlikely: it starts out like an ode to the girl down the block, but winds up a prayer. The lost-souls motif implicit in the album’s title is brought to its peak in “I Don’t Hang Around Much Anymore.” Superficially a statement of typical rock-star ennui, the song soon becomes something much more. Wolf’s singing, Geils’ aching guitar solo and Stephen Bladd’s gunshot drums make it a last gasp for every aging rocker who’s sought solace in the realms of his own madness.
For everyone else who finds himself hanging around less and less these days, Sanctuary is a record to hear.
Circus Weekly, No 209, Feb 6th, 1979 – By Gary Kenton.
J.Geils Band gets back………
1977’s Monkey Island was something of a comeback album for this veteran outfit, and Sanctuary, their tenth LP (and first for EMI), again reaffirms the R&B foundations on which the J.Geils Band was founded more than a decade ago (and reinforced by a return to their full name, dropping the sleeker but flimsier Geils). A purposefully uncluttered album, Sanctuary finds the band unyielding to the temptation of the insidious disco drone, still reworking classic blues-based rock & roll without losing credibility or punch.
Like the Rolling Stones, their nearest counterpart in terms of their acknowledged debt to R&B, the J.Geils Band has shown increased sensitivity in handling ballads in recent years, while sometimes laboring to put across the rockers. But Peter Wolf shows less strain than Mick Jagger, not yet needing to resort to camp indifference (disco) to rock with a straight face. “I Don’t Hang Around Much Anymore” is the albums most poignant cut, the ballad of a man disillusioned by the turn of social events, resigned to stay home because he “just can’t fake it.” All but three of the remaining songs deal with love left behind or leaving, from the sprightly single, “One Last Kiss,” and a threatening rocker, “I Could You,” to the mistrustful “I Cant Believe You,” the quasi-reggae “Take It Back” and the mournful “Teresa.”
The Geils Band is weakest when it gets grandiose, as is the case with the title track, a plodding rocker made interesting by revealing a rather moralistic, semi-religious code which could be one that Wolf and his songwriting partner, Seth Justman, believe in.
Sanctuary is not a very cheerful album, lyrically, but it’s a substantial one from any standpoint. You don’t have to listen to the words with a group this proficient churning away, but it’s nice to know you can without being embarrassed.