304 North Cardinal St.
Dorchester Center, MA 02124
304 North Cardinal St.
Dorchester Center, MA 02124
Bluesdoodles rating: 4 Doodle Paws – a wonderful album of blues, soul and funk overlaid by some masterful guitar playing and quality production.
After thirty years performing and eighteen albums (all worthy ones too), Eric Gales needs no introduction: his skilful guitar playing and a warm vocal that has bite when the song demands. The good news is that he’s back with a new album called The Crown and features Joe Bonamassa on one track and on the production desk alongside Josh Smith. By the way, seek out the video of Eric and Joe duetting/battling guitars from the blues cruise performance and you will see why he’s so respected and why he and Joe go together so well.
The real world is woven through the lyrics; from the autobiographical, no holds barred times past of his addictions and recovery to recent events…Eric explains: “As I began to chat about [the George Floyd murder] to Joe and Josh during preproduction, raw and unnerved emotion came out of me, and Joe furiously scribbled down notes about it all. These songs came from those outpourings. They’re about my life, and what’s happening in the world right now. When it came time to sing, I had to take breaks between vocals to cry and let it out. I was sharing my experiences as a Black man, and my private struggles. This is me letting the world know what I’ve been through.”
The listing shows sixteen tracks, but three of them are short (too short) instrumental exercises that I would hope are expanded on future releases.
Press play and the first thing you hear is “My name is Eric Gales, any questions?” Err, no Eric, because you explain it so eloquently in the lyrical honesty of Death of Me. It has a superb opening riff and melodies running through the whole song and his vocal is spot on until a rap phrasing for a verse…this is a style that always jars for me, I’m afraid, although it is short enough not to impinge on the overall quality of this great composition. Plus, when the guitar solo, complete with masterful use of the wah pedal arrives, I could forgive him anything.
The Storm arrives next and moves from an a cappella opening on racism that immediately resonates: “How can you love what I do, but hate who I am” before a horn-led rhythm that is lighter rock, with blues underlying each note wrung from Eric’s guitar…even he seems to appreciate as his woos and heys back some excellent playing. Had to Dip is the first of the three instrumentals and is thirty seconds of SRV styled loveliness…but only half a minute?! I Want My Crown sees Joe Bonamassa moving from behind the desk to join in. It’s a funky masterpiece that name-checks Joey B too and the lyrics have bite and humour and need to be listened to. The spoken intro to invite JB on board (“let’s hit it Joe”) leads to a duet of simply exquisite playing from the pair of them and recalls that live performance.
Stand Up brings some soul and gospel to the blues as the Rhodes provides the key backing melodies, although there is room for a sensitive and blues-drenched guitar solo from Eric. Survivor changes tempo and emotions as he tears into the riff with aplomb and puts forward the need for change in the clever lyrical melody and words. The riff is superb and, whilst harking back to the early days of electric blues, it is still original, powerful and the melodic chorus a delight…the solo is so damned clever; the runs and the atonal notes he slots in occasionally is stunning.
On the next track, You Don’t Know The Blues, Eric sings “If you ain’t been to jail, you don’t know the blues.”…well he has been to jail and, although I’d dispute that statement (I can name a lot of great guitarists who haven’t served time) he certainly draws on that experience to add pathos to the sharp lyrics. It’s backed with fiery, funky blues with a lovely bass line that Eric lays some nice chopped chords across. The solo echoes the sentiments with a superb example of blues guitar virtuosity. Rattlin’ Change is the second instrumental excursion… sixty-four seconds of sustain and guitar histrionics that, again is so short it’s almost pointless…still damn good though.
Too Close To The Fire is pure blues from the first emotional note through the Hendrixian via Robin Trower development. It all builds to the most stunning guitar solo on the album. Now that’s how to use wah and hammer-on effectively! Put That Back is back to funk and horns with a call and response ‘ooh’ section ready for a crowd. The solo arrives and is another masterclass in technique as he weaves around the melodies with ease while inserting dazzling runs and phased sections. Take Me Just As I Am features Eric’s wife, LaDonna Gales, and the funk/soul edge wraps nicely around her strong vocal performance. Listen to some of the guitar phrasings behind her as Eric adds colour with some simple but effective playing. There is a little semi-rapped section as he introduces LaDonna and then it fades a bit suddenly, rather than expanding into a solo and climax…ah well.
Cupcakin’ is the third instrumental teaser with forty-odd seconds of promise not delivered. Let Me Start With This is phased funk over a recognisable structure that doesn’t detract and is used to great effect on the solo. I Found Her brings acoustic chords that have an almost mediaeval structure with lyrics describing how love arrived…and stayed. The false ending is a neat introduction to another stunning and fluid electric solo that compliments rather than clashes with what has gone before. My Own Best Friend is a languid love song with some nice chord work behind the vocal and the soulful chorus. The solos are suitably emotive with just enough notes in just the right place, even if they end too soon.
The final track, I Gotta Go, has a jazzy base on a song that sounds like it was written as a show closer…it also has funk, blues and soul levered neatly into the instrumentation as Eric talks rather than sings and, to wrap it all up coherently, after ‘introducing the band’ he repeats the “My name is Eric Gales: any questions?” from the opener.
This is a great album filled with songs that feature excellent guitar work, rather than songs written around the guitar…Bonamassa and Smith have obviously contributed hugely to the strong performances and production, but Eric has added depth and passion to his CV. It is as good as Eric’s Crystal Vision masterpiece and that is praise indeed.
Death of Me
Had to Dip
I Want My Crown (ft. Joe Bonamassa)
You Don’t Know The Blues
Too Close To The Fire
Put That Back
Take Me Just As I Am (ft. LaDonna Gales)
Let Me Start With This
I Found her
My Own Best Friend
I Gotta Go
Produced by: Joe Bonamassa and Josh Smith
Recorded at: Sound Emporium Nashville
Crown is: released via Provogue/Mascot Label Group on 28th January
Weds 23 Mar – Brighton, Concord 2
Thurs 24 Mar – Dover, Booking Hall
Fri 25 Mar – London, O2 Islington Academy
Sat 26 Mar – Southampton, 1865
Sun 27 Mar – Bristol, Fleece
Tues 29 Mar – Nottingham, Rescue Rooms
Weds 30 Mar – Wolverhampton, Robin 2
Thurs 31 Mar – Manchester, Academy
Fri 1 Apr – Glasgow, Oran Mor
Sat 2 Apr – Whitley Bay, Playhouse
Sun 3 Apr – Leeds, Brudenell Social Club
(After more wonderful Gales songs, I cheated a bit and jumped an Eric to listen to “The Queen of Slide Guitar”, Erja Lyytinen and her Another World album from 2019 and the blues-rock excellence of Snake in the Grass.)