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Rory Gallagher

The Re-mastered Albums – Part Two
Sony Legacy Recordings / Capo Records

As if the first batch of Rory re-mastered albums with bonus cuts wasn’t enough to keep fans and new followers happy, hot on their heels come the next five. Again worked on by surviving brother Donal and Rory’s nephew Daniel, these re-released tracks do justice to the no-frills attack and also sensitive side of the late great Rory Gallagher.  If you’ve read my chat with guitar hotshot Joe Bonamassa, you will be aware that it is not just those of us who saw Rory live in performance and got to have the odd word with him that enjoy and are influenced by his music. In many ways he set the benchmark for the modern bluesman – aware and respectful of his roots but ever pushing to create something fresh from the sonic ingredients. With great technique but never flashy and keeping well away from gimmicks and dance remixes, Gallagher’s works can be listened to many years after their creation and still get the toes tapping and with the atmosphere of the songs captured to be savoured.

Sometimes, he is described as ‘workmanlike’ but this implies plodding which to my mind Rory never was. Of course working with top-flight musicians kept him on his toes and interplay was an integral part of Gallagher’s modus operandi. It is hard to think of another musician who so consistently made dynamics an essential factor throughout a long recording career. Fans would agree that they have their own favourite albums BUT I don’t think RG ever made a duffer. Indeed the late period ‘Fresh Evidence’ is an absolute corker, varied and exciting viz. ‘Ghost Blues…

‘AGAINST THE GRAIN‘ has a rockin’ start with ‘Let Me In’ and its choppy riffing against tinkling piano and classic BritBlues drumming. And a lovely sustained note about three minutes in…I recall it brightened up 1975 when some rather stodgy progrock works were released by other acts. ‘Cross Me Off Your List’ is a staccato piece with a fine vocal and again crisp drumming, with a hint of Santana in the guitar phrasing. Moody baroque piano introduces ‘Ain’t Too Good’ which is a pulled-punch admonishment item which I always thought should have been offered to Joe Cocker. The guitar solo is clipped and to the point.

‘Souped Up Ford’ is a very cool slide feature which rocks out in style ; ‘Bought & Sold’ is a real toe-tapper with a jaunty tempo and bright vocal on a learned-my-lesson theme.

Other highlights on this set are ‘All Around Man’ which has a huge Muddy Waters flavour and the acoustic tread through ’Out On The Western Plain’ which of course became a regular setlist choice. Bonus cuts are ‘Cluny Blues’ and ‘My Baby, Sure’ with some studio chat and a rockabilly jukebox feel.

‘CALLING CARD’ from 1976 has a funky rockin’ start with ‘Do You Read Me’ which has a surefooted vibe and twisting guitar figures over the bass /organ/drums.

Rocking tempo’d ‘Country Mile’ kicks up a storm in Jerry Lee Lewis style and sweeping slide guitar runs against that ever-present uptempo and crisp drumwork. Rory’s dynamic touch is well demonstrated on ‘Moonchild’ which has an ominous progression and I think one of Gallagher’s best vocal performances, would still make a fine film soundtrack opener. The title track swings like crazy and the guitar bursts evoke Buddy Guy’s sardonic phrasing, how cool does that piano sound on this selection ? ‘Secret Agent’ is an exercise in insistent edginess with dark slide guitar and almost Deep Purple organ playing ; if Van Morrison was ever an influence on Rory, it shows best on the mellow-paced ‘Edged In Blue’ with its lovely melody, giving way to a brisk vocal passage. Bonus cut ‘Where Was I Going To’ has almost a Wailers melancholy-tinged progression and quite different from any other track on this album, reflective lyric et al.

Now it’s 1978 and we have ‘PHOTO FINISH’ which is some followers’ favourite RG set. Opener ‘Shin Kicker’ is a typical rock’n’roll work that Rory would play live, the guitar solos are sharp and inspired – very American-sounding. ‘Brute Force & Ignorance’ is not a tribute to Grammar School teachers of my hapless era of education, but rather an emphatic rocker full of stops and ringing electric guitar chording and overdubbed mandolin. It’s almost a Dylanesque tale and has one of Rory’s best singing performances. This would sit alongside Little Feat’s ‘Dixie Chicken’ as a quirky rock song. A splendid slide guitar with a raspy tone cuts loose towards the end and rides the fade.

This set is also notable for the pumping ‘Cloak & Dagger’ with added harmonica ; plus the urgent chug of ‘Shadow Play’ which is an exciting outing to be sure and would suit king rocker Glenn Hughes. A punching bridge mentions Jekyll and Hyde and a fabulous guitar solo appears in the second minute, piling on the tension.

‘Fuel To The Fire’ has an unmistakable Dylan influence as Gallagher pursues his electric-folk muse, a touch of flanger on the guitar. Bonus cuts here are ‘Early Warning’ which is a real stormer and would have been played on Alan Freeman’s rock show, Rory sounds fired up and the band rock out. ‘Juke Box Annie’ is set to a backbeat and has acoustic guitar and harp elements, Rory singing of a troublesome female albeit with an audible wry smile. The standard of singing on this record is up there with Rory’s best, I would say.

On to 1979 and ‘TOP PRIORITY’ which was a popular release in its day, featuring as it did ‘Philby’ on the rough theme spy scandal ( a heavy rocker with screaming electric guitar and paranoia-ridden lyric…and can that electric sitar sound any more driven ?)    and ‘At The Depot’ with its tumbling opening and stomping beat.

‘Follow Me’  has a choppy chord intro worthy of Wilko Johnson and driving tempo over splayed guitar chords and maybe Gallagher’s best ever singing. As a rock song this can give Thin Lizzy, Trapeze and others a real run for their money.The guitar is really fluid – a standout and consistent feature of this entire record, readers – but doesn’t outstay its welcome. ‘Wayward Child’ is another pacy song with singing guitars and the entire group sounds surefooted and fiery, especially on the middle eight. More fluid and expressive guitar that the re-mastering enhances.

Flanged tone guitar introduces ‘Keychain’ giving a quasi-Hendrixy mood to the cut but this is Rory at his bluesiest ; ‘Just Hit Town’ has that RG hurtling tempo slide flavour ; a steady electric-Delta lope carries ‘Off The Handle’. On this album the extra songs are ‘Hell Cat’ which is a steady rocker but nothing outstanding and ‘The Watcher’ which is a much more interesting piece being a mysterious Link Wray-tempo’d  song where Rory sounds positively distressed at something he has seen or experienced. He was an avid reader so who knows what he had been absorbing at this time ? Intriguing and a tad gothic for the check-shirted journeyman. A pinched-tone guitar break sounds fuelled by concern…and all this pre-dates Alice In Chains by some years !

So now we’re listening to 1982’s ‘JINX’ and its spiky starting number ‘Signs’ and with the punks having failed to stamp out anyone older than them, Gallagher is still creating punchy rock songs with plenty of racy guitar and his voice sounding good and still distinctively Rory. Moreover he is proving night after night that he can deliver live performances that few contemporaries can match and has amassed a large collection of self-penned gems. Each release has a supercharged-Gene-Vincent style number or two and here it’s ‘The Devil Made Me Do It’. ‘Double Vision’ is as emphatically gritty and catchy as anything ZZ Top were to produce and the slide sounds glorious. ‘Big Guns’ would flatten any New Wave band’s attempt to sound clipped and full of intent as Gallagher  and crew sound like amphetamined Kinks on the rampage. Interesting bass figures on this number, too. ‘Jinxed’ is a rolling blues rocker with Noo Orleanz drumming ; the pokey-rhythmed ‘Bourbon’ sounds like the Stones in a hurry. It’s way back to blues influences on ‘Ride On Red, Ride On’ which if memory serves nodded to Louisiana Red rather than the Tampa variety. Extra songs are ‘Nothin’ But The Devil’ an assured acoustic outing whilst ‘Lonely Mile’ has a Taj Mahal flavor to these ears, strutting tempo that wouldn’t have been out of place on ‘Exile On Main Street’. As varied as most RG sets, ‘Jinx’ still sounds good to these ears

Pete Sargeant           www.fairhearing.co.uk

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