Working on SonicAbuse I have been fortunate enough to cover long-term heroes and brand new acts. I have also been introduced to more acts, old and new, than I can count, and had the opportunity to fill a significant number of gaping holes in my collection. I have, over the years, heard the name Rory Gallagher many times – of his ability as a solo artist and his rejected opportunity to join Deep Purple (Rory preferred to stay with his own band) – and yet, for all that, I had somehow never got round to actually listening to the man – a decision fans will undoubtedly regard with horror, and one which I have had much cause to lament having spent the last two days listening in awe to the first six albums, all of which have been remastered and repackaged by Sony, celebrating forty years since the start of Rory’s career. The albums, reissued in chronological release date order, are as follows: “Rory Gallagher” (1971), “Deuce” (1971), “Live In Europe!” (1972), “Blueprint” (1973), “Tattoo” (1973) and “Irish Tour ’74” (1974) and this review will deal with the first three.
“Rory Gallagher” (1971), is the first in the set and it features the album’s original ten tracks lovingly re-mastered by Andy Pearce and Matt Wortham at Wired Masters (previous credits include Gary Numan and Bjork) under the close supervision of Donal Gallagher, Rory’s brother and former tour manager. Packaged in a digi-pack featuring archive photographs and sleeve notes courtesy of the aforementioned Donal, it is clear that a level of work has gone into this to make sure that the project is done in a manner that respects both Rory’s fans and the memory of Rory himself.
As for the record, well it is sublime, as is much of the content across these six records. As stated above, Rory Gallagher’s work was new territory for me and as such I have spent much of the weekend with my jaw on the floor just replaying each one of these discs until my long suffering wife finally lost patience and demanded a change of pace! Even so, she has to sleep sometime and Rory was rapidly back on the stereo so I could absorb a few more of the glorious moments these records contain.
Opening with ‘Laundromat’, a track that features a cool, writhing riff backed up by Wilgar Campbell’s incomparable drumming and Gerry McAvoy’s warm, jazzy bass lines there is no question at all as to why Rory is held in such high regard – the music shifts across the spectrum from blues to rock ‘n’ roll heaven in a short four and a half minutes with Rory’s sublime, roaring solo seared across the bridge like a streak of white hot flame. That Rory should have been possessed with a voice that simply drips with soul, even when detailing such a mundane location as a Laundromat, is truly the icing on the proverbial – if, like me, you have never encountered Rory’s work kick yourself, hard, and then start out with this blistering outing and then work forward – you’ll never look back. ‘Just the smile’ is a beautifully played blues number, Rory’s guitar flourishes effortlessly demonstrating his mastery of his instrument while the re-master happily maintains the original dynamics of the music rather than opting for the blisteringly loud, dynamically dead sound that curses some re-masters. ‘I fall apart’ sees Rory laying down the groundwork for the powerful soul-based rock that was the late, lamented Jeff Buckley’s stock in trade on ‘grace’, and what is most remarkable is that both sonically and compositionally, it could have been written yesterday; if I did not know when this was recorded it would be all too easy to believe that this was a modern release, such is the power of Rory’s timeless song writing ability. Indeed as the song plunged to its raucous climax you can hear proto-punk and proto art-rock elements shot through his frenzied playing and it’s hard to keep one’s pulse at a sensible rate. That this is followed up by the gorgeous blues of ‘wave myself goodbye’, a song that sees Rory don an acoustic guitar whilst Vincent Crane’s adds to the sound with some sweet piano, adds to the feeling that Rory was a true master, comfortable playing the beautiful music in his head unfettered by notions of genre and the result is an album that roams the wide boundaries of rock and blues, gazing in wonder at what it finds along the way.
‘Hands up’ is a full on rocker, a positive, up-tempo blast with a blinding riff, and let us not forget the blinding solo that takes up much of the second half of the song. ‘Sinner boy’ is a wonderful song resplendent with slide guitar and an empathetic lyric showcasing the fact that even at 23 Rory was not blind to those around him. ‘For the last time’ is, according to Donal’s informative liner notes, based upon Rory’s experiences at the tail end of his bad Taste, although the music is far from a downbeat experience, taking on a rather smoky, end-of-the-night feel with its extended outro before ‘it’s you’ goes all country on us and introduces both slide guitar and the mandolin into the mix. It’s also probably the only track on the album I could contemplate skipping, but then I’ve never gone a bundle on country music, but it’s skilfully done. ‘I’m not surprised’ sees the wonderful Vince Crane return on piano and the track is a brilliant piece that then pales in comparison to the brilliant closing number of ‘I can’t believe it’s true’ which has a wonderful jazzy feel thanks to Rory’s alto sax work.
Two bonus tracks also appear on the album – this is something that frequently frustrates me with reissues as I prefer to have the album free of unwanted baggage – but as far as these bonus tracks go, they do fit in with the overall feel of what’s on offer and they highlight Rory playing Homage to Muddy Waters (‘gypsy woman’) and Otis Rush (‘it takes time’) showing that legends also have their heroes. It’s a breathtaking album and that it was his first solo work quite remarkable.
Next up is “Deuce” (1971), which, for me at least, is the best of the three in this review. Opening with ‘used to be’ Rory is in full on rock ‘n’ roll form with his voice gritty and full of power, whilst Gerry McAvoy and Wilgar Campbell return from the previous outing to provide a thunderous rhythm section for Rory’s rampaging solos to play off against. To borrow form Spinal tap for a moment, ‘Deuce’ is the moment that Rory turned up to 11 – for sure his self-titled outing is jaw-dropping, but the levels of intensity found on ‘Deuce’ are simply remarkable – it’s raw, it’s beautiful, it’s laden with power and authority and Rory stands stock still in the centre of it all whipping up a hurricane with his distorted soloing simply napalming the track. It’s an opening that even ‘Donal’ seems overawed by in his once-again-excellent liner notes, and the re-master has been careful to maintain the live, gritty feel of the track rather than opt for a clinical, studio sheen that would be wholly inappropriate. Things calm down on the elegiac ‘I’m not awake yet’ which is part blues, part psychedelic experience with the drums playing an energetic counterpoint to Rory’s laid-back blues playing. ‘Don’t know where I’m going’ is another travellin’ blues workout complete with harmonica and kick-box rhythm and then you’re treated to ‘maybe I will’ a track that is deceptively complex and overlaid with some stinging guitar work that wouldn’t sound out of place on an Iggy Pop disc. ‘Whole lot of people’ has a stunning opening and then expands its remit to include some nice rhythm ‘n’ blues work, oblique politicised lyrics and some glorious slide guitar work. The political theme spills over into ‘in your town’, a tale that is explained in some detail in the liner notes and which proved to be one of Rory’s most popular tracks, closing his live shows on a regular basis and it’s easy to see why.
After the extended guitar fury of ‘in your town’ it is with some sense that Rory does not even try to outdo himself and instead he retreats into mid-paced blues to allow both the listener and himself a breather. The result is a track that sees Gerry’s bass stalking behind Rory’s excellent guitar work and heart-felt lyricism. ‘There’s a light’ is a remarkable track, jazzy and complex, and markedly different to anything else on offer here – it showcases a totally different side to Rory’s musical tastes and stands out as a result, not to mention the magnificent, remarkable guitar playing that is more than enough to make even practiced musicians weep. ‘Out of my mind’ is a great acoustic show-stopper, a country-edged blues track that simply sparkles and then we’re left only with ‘crest of a wave’ to lead us out of the album via a tour of Rory’s near-perfect grasp of slide guitar dynamics. And so ‘Deuce’ ends – no bonus tracks tacked on this time, but an informative and fascinating essay, as well as liner notes for each track, are offered up for the delight of newcomers and fans alike, and of course there’s the pristine mastering job that captures the sound and genius of Rory in full flight.
The final re-issue that this review will look at is “Live In Europe!” (1972), the first of two live offerings in this collection. Featuring two bonus tracks that have been inserted into the running order (‘what in the world’ and ‘Hoodoo man’ – tracks 7 & 8 respectively), ‘Live in Europe!’ is now a nine track tour-de-force that is renowned for having captured the imagination of Adam Clayton and The Edge when it was first released in 1972. Featuring only two tracks from the previous two outings (‘Laundromat’ and ‘in your town’), ‘Live in Europe’ captures Rory where he belonged – on stage. Politely introduced, Rory comes on storming with a cover of ‘Messin’ with the kid’ (originally recorded by Junior Wells in 1960) and promptly lays waste to the venue. Not content to leave it at that he’s straight into a blistering rendition of ‘Laundromat’ which does the impossible by outstripping its album counterpart. ‘I could’ve had religion’ is introduced, almost shyly, before Rory bolts on a harmonica and singlehandedly silences the audience with some stunning slide guitar work – not many artists can create the sort of atmosphere on their own that can silence a crowd so effectively. When the band do, finally join in, it’s to weave subtle, slow-burning blues magic that just sounds amazing even some forty years after the fact. ‘Pistol slapper blues’ (another cover, this time courtesy of Blind Boy Fuller) is a devastating piece of fretwork, this time on acoustic, yet it’s ‘going to my hometown’ (a Rory original) that sets the venue truly on fire and you can only wonder at how many pairs of hands are clapping along in time to the impossibly addictive rhythm.
Typical show closer ‘in your town’ appears next and it is certainly no less heart stopping than the version on ‘Deuce’ with its extended guitar workout (the track now clocks in at a mighty ten minutes) guaranteed to give anyone who isn’t Clapton eternal blisters. ‘What in the world’ – one of the two inserted tracks – is a lovely, harmonica-led, blues workout that conjures an instant craving for bourbon and smoky bars, while ‘Hoodoo man’ sees the slide guitar get a mean workout before the album closes with the up-tempo delight that is ‘Bullfrog blues’, a sweaty, hard-rocking beast that leaves Rory raw throated and the audience withered with exhaustion.
With pristine audio providing the perfect rendering of the band on fire in front of an audience, this is an excellent complement to the two studio albums. And then there are the liner notes – this time not provided by Donal, but offering up the words of Rory himself via a vintage interview with journalist Mick Rock who interviewed the guitarist for Rolling Stone Magazine. It is a revealing interview and a worthy addition to the package, although perhaps a few more photos would have been nice.
Having never heard the original versions I cannot qualify whether the re-masters improve upon the originals but I will say this – the audio here appears to be one of the better re-mastering jobs, produced with a sensitivity and respect that is far removed from the recent ‘loudness wars’ re-mastering hack jobs that have blighted music discussion boards these last years. Presumably the involvement of Donal has helped to keep things in check, but credit must be given to all involved for some really excellent re-issues that have enabled newcomers such as myself to fall in love with an artist who was simply exemplary in his field. Listening here, it is easy to see exactly why artists from Slash to Brian May rate Rory as a first-class talent and a massive loss to the music world. Whether these editions warrant a re-purchase may well depend upon exactly how much of a fan you are, but for the newcomer these are essential additions to any serious music collection. This is music for the music lover, music for the soul, music played with passion by a natural born musician possessed of a voice and skill that burned with exceptional brightness. Listening to these three re-issues has been an unmitigated pleasure and an educational experience that will stay with me – these records are to be treasured.