Provogue [Release date 08.02.19]
Back in his psychedelic rock days, I always used to think that it was Eric Gales’s second solo that defined both the song itself and the guitarist’s signature style. Just like a boxer he bobbed, weaved and jabbed away before delivering a big resolving punch.
What’s different with ‘The Bookends’ is both his willingness to embrace stylistic change and the fact his producer Matt Wallace places a lot of emphasis on his vocals.
You could argue Eric Gales has for long searched for material worthy of his playing ability, but ‘The Bookends’ pushes him into the realms of an all-round performer who is equally happy exploring rock, blues, soul and plenty of funky elements.
More than that, it’s the attention to detail that is the key to an album that demands old school patience and listening to reveal its real depth.
There are subtle moments of interlinked vocals, catchy rhythms, arcs of guitar notes and different vocal attacks, all of which give the ‘The Bookends’ its variety and coherence.
It’s also an album with plenty of contrast. On the one hand it’s a slow burner as there is so much to digest, yet there are essential moments that leap out and grab you, from the pulsating bass lines to the delicate percussion and scintillating licks.
‘The Bookends’ is a curious title, as it suggests the material is almost an afterthought, when in fact it’s an adventurous leap for a rock-blues artist with soulful intentions.
He’s helped by guests that bring out the best in him. Californian rapper/producer B. Slade joins him on the Stevie Wonder influenced ‘Something’s Gotta Give’, on a meeting of funk and gospel with an a cappella break, a vocal collage, and detailed call and response.
Then there’s guitarist Doyle Bramhall 11 on the magnificent ‘Southpaw Serenade’, a soulful, sultry blues on which Eric lyrically opens his heart: “What seems so easy was always misunderstood with the hand of the devil y’all how the hell could I be this good.”He further adds deeply felt emotion with an awesome tone. The busy percussive finish and Gales wah- wah finale could almost be Zappa, as the closing solo fades all too soon, even after 8 and half minutes.
Beth Hart also pops up for a vibrato laden cover of ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’, but the track feel a little contrived, lacking real emotion and certainly not part of the album’s flow.
No matter, ‘The Bookends’ draws the listener in on the back of lashing of funk, delivered in subtle and diverse ways. ‘Whatcha Gon’ Do’ for example, is all about the contrast between the close-to-the-mic warm vocal and incisive guitar lines, as a restless riff gives way to a blizzard of note flurries.
The phonetically titled ‘It Just Beez That Way’ (a variation on Nina Simone’s ‘It Bees That Way Sometime’) opens with some Bobby McFerrin style beat boxing on an irresistible funky fusion cut that could be Jeff Beck’s ‘Wired’ era. It’s full of sculpted wah-wah, punchy bass lines and a mid-number titular mission statement.
The album is full of little thematic and musical triggers, meaning that you can probably read more into ‘Reaching For A Change’ than you might otherwise do. EG extends his musical outlook on an album that aims to lead his core audience into a wider musical remit, while finding new fans. He does so via clear communicative lyrics, a fine vocal performance and some stellar guitar.
The album is topped and tailed by with two instrumentals and an unexpected bonus coda ‘Pedal To The Metal’, which extends the harpsichord sounding percussive beat of the earlier ‘Somebody Lied’, on an arrangement that evokes Sparks.
His opening instrumental is a metal influenced whammy bar piece, offset by delicate percussion, a big drum groove and intricately woven guitar lines, while ‘Resolution’ is a beautiful guitar prism that sparkles like a chandelier.
Built on a lovely tic-toc rhythm, it features deeply wrought tone and nuanced wah- wah, as part of an enveloping groove. It’s a distant echo of Eric’s early psychedelic blues rock style. His weighty touch and tone on this track is the stuff of the gods and is everything that makes Eric Gales one of the great players of our time. ****
Review by Pete Feenstra
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Pete Feenstra celebrated his 300th show in October 2019. Pete heads up a five-hour blues rock marathon when “Tuesday is Bluesday” from 19:00 GMT. Listen out also for his interview-based Feature show on Sundays (20:00 GMT)
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