Rory Gallagher-50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition
4.5 out of 5 stars
Videos by American Songwriter
Those charged with keeping Irish blues/rock guitarist Rory Gallagher’s memory not just alive but elevated since his untimely death in 1995 have done a superb job. A steady stream of Gallagher releases after his passing (at just 48 years old) includes the usual live music, previously unreleased studio recordings, and the like, all expertly packaged and, unlike some of his gone-before-their-time peers, of the highest quality.
It helps Gallagher’s posthumous visibility that he has been lauded by high profile guitar slingers from Brian May to Peter Frampton, Johnny Marr, The Edge, Jimmy Page, and Eric Clapton who said he was “The man who got me back into the blues.”
The attention to detail directed towards previous official Gallagher releases continues with this expanded version of his first solo album, circa 1971. The guitarist was moderately well known at the time of its release because he had already led his earlier band Taste to some modest degree of success, at least in Europe. That three-piece also famously opened a handful of dates on Blind Faith’s lone tour, providing Gallagher much-needed exposure.
He continued Taste’s trio format for these 10 tracks (reissued in 2000 with two more), keeping the sound lean, powerful, and punchy. Guest keyboards enhance two songs (especially prominent on the acoustic blues of “Wave Myself Goodbye”) but Gallagher, who takes full production control, clearly feels the three-piece line up works best.
The disc kicks off with the riff rocking “Laundromat” featuring a rare Gallagher harmonica overdub. It’s one of the few straightforward blues-rockers here but the track’s jazzy overtones become more evident as the next nine tunes roll by. Longer selections like the six-minute “For the Last Time” and the closing “Can’t Believe It’s True” find Gallagher snubbing the guitar hero pose for a more subtle, jazz-tinged style geared towards melody and structure. He even adds alto sax, something he frustratingly abandoned after this album.
Each of the ten tracks is meticulously composed and performed, light on the slashing fretwork Gallagher exhibited live and heavy on the occasionally brooding compositional intricacy that to some extent was discarded as his catalog, and audience, increased. His expressive vocals similarly display a lighter touch which dovetails with the overall dialed down but far from tranquil approach. Rather than stick to a straight plugged-in Chicago blues attack, the artist bathes his songs in a blues feeling that’s enormously effective.
Discs two and three are devoted to a plethora of alternate recordings. They show how much work Gallagher put into each selection, making slight adjustments as he fine-tuned the compositions. This is clearly geared towards hardcore fans; after all, who else will want to compare the moderate differences in six versions of “Hands Up,” four of “At the Bottom” or three for the sweet acoustic ballad “Just the Smile,” the latter so similar to some of Jimmy Page’s unplugged Zeppelin work that you wonder who influenced whom. But these takes are far from throwaways. They are as good, and in some respects better and looser, than what made it onto the final product.
Disc four is comprised of ten sizzling previously unreleased live performances for BBC radio, all in terrific fidelity. Here we get a taste (pun intended) of how Gallagher stretched songs for the stage. He teases his soon to be released second album (Nov. 1971) with nine scorching minutes of “In Your Town” and goes straight blues with a tight four-minute, followed by a rollicking seven-minute, stab at Otis Rush’s “It Takes Time,” complete with bass and drum solos. It puts to rest any reservations that Gallagher wasn’t one of his generation’s finest guitarists of any genre. A fifth platter DVD, not available for viewing at press time, presents a 50-minute concert from Gallagher’s first solo tour.
Add a 32-page book for what is the last word on this powerful solo debut; one that sounds as fresh and frisky today as it did five decades ago. The new crisp remastering makes it an even more powerful example of Rory Gallagher’s remarkable guitar and especially songwriting talents.