Provogue [Release date 28.01.21]
Eric Gales opens his 21st album ‘Crown’ with a track called ‘Death Of Me’ with the open ended: “My name is Eric Gales, any questions?”
It’s a more ambivalent intro than you might at first imagine, for this superlative guitar player has never quite found his true career defining niche, until now.
So the real question is, which Eric Gales are we going to get here?
‘Crown’ suggests the former child prodigy has matured, being unafraid to dig deep into autobiographical songs, while his guitar playing always serves the song.
Where previously a melange of rock, blues, funk, gospel, r&b and psychedelia – with significant Hendrix influences – provided a backdrop for his scintillating fretwork, ‘Crown’ gives him a coherent identity, born of lyrical depth and well structured arrangements that facilitate the album’s flow from start to finish.
He taps into the post George Floyd world for his frisson and dips into his own experiences to reveal who he really is.
The album also focuses more on his warm vocal style which is well suited to songs that shift from the autobiographical to the observational, with occasional glimpses of his droll humour.
‘Crown’ is a career high, possibly because he’s sidelined his guitar playing metaphor – “a left-handed upside-down player in a “right-handed world” – to cut through the injustices of modern life and embrace the positives.
More significantly, his deeper moments of self analysis are sometimes given a more universal feel that we can all relate too.
‘You Don’t Know The Blues’ for example, rises from an opening audio collage and a tempo change into a cool groove with the uncompromising opening line: “If you ain’t been to jail, you don’t know the blues.”
However, he delineates his blues in a way we can all to relate too, from the tax man to relationships.
Deep into the album he pulls everything back to his autobiographical roots on luscious funk of ‘Let Me Start With This’, which serves a restatement of his own self affirmation.
It’s a near conclusion of a musical journey that opens with the kind of post Zeppelin bluster on ‘Death Of Me’ that could have come from one of co-producer’s Joe Bonamassa’s albums.
The difference is Gales warm vocal timbre, expressive phrasing and clarity of diction. The bluster gives a way to a drop-down with a spoken word rap and a dynamic guitar break full of poise, belated gritty wah-wah and a wall of sound that thunders on.
‘The Storm’ is better still. It moves from an a cappella comment on racism – “How can you love what I do, but hate who I am” – into a horn-led groove not far removed from Steely Dan, but peppered with gutsy guitar work that draws an exclamatory ‘woo’, ‘hey’ and guttural expressions from Eric, on a beautifully realised track that defines his oeuvre.
The slow soulful relationship blues ‘Stand Up’, counterweights musical restraint with gospel tinged bv’s with spiky lyrics before a surprisingly gentle slow fade robs us of a big finish.
In sharp contrast, both ‘Survivor’ and ‘Too Close To The Fire’ finds him at his most animated.
On the former he pours his vitriol into his playing and lyrics about a need for change, while ‘Too Close To The Fire’ is a more restrained piece that channels emotions though lovely accented guitar lines, as he uses fiery metaphors with allusions to the 1964 civil right murders in Mississippi.
Around the 5.16 mark his intricately woven guitar playing explodes into magical solo that eviscerates all that has gone before.
It’s venomous, emotional, and inspirational, with feverish wah-wah and gospel tinged bv’s that end up in the realms of Pink Floyd.
It’s also a brush with his subconscious that leads to lyrical flow and the kind of magisterial playing that effortlessly transcends genres.
And there, right at the centre of an album that teases us with 3 vignettes of his playing ability, is ‘I Want My Crown’, a showdown with Bonammassa on the album’s lead single.
It will surely draw many more listeners into an album that has even far more to offer than this intense smoking duel.
He shares the load with his wife LaDonna Gales on “Take Me Just As I Am.”, which marks a makes a slight diversion into soulful funk, but there’s no denying the lyrical veracity or indeed the percolating horn/strings/guitar backing track which arguably fades too quickly.
‘Crown’ marks Eric Gales ascent to his rightful place in the rock-blues pantheon. It has more depth and vision than his early career highlights such as ‘Crystal Vision’ and ‘The Psychedelic Underground’.
It also eclipses 2019’s acclaimed ‘The Book Ends’, being more song-driven, coherent and focused, while vindicating his decision to hook up with the Joe Bonamassa/Josh Smith guitar playing production team who know his strengths.
The result is a five star success. *****
Review by Pete Feenstra
The latest Josh Taerk live session was streamed on Sunday 12 December. The session above was a Halloween Special streamed on 31 October 2021. Josh’s next session is Sunday 30 January 2022.
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Power Plays w/c 10 January (Mon-Fri)
SMOKING MARTHA Wild & Free (Xelon Entertainment)
TRUE NORTH Fix (Out Of Line Music)
COLLECTED Say When (indie)
ABOUT KINGS Heaven On Down The Highway (indie)
WHALEDOG Leave Me Alone (indie)
LED BY LANTERNS Six Feet Down (indie)
KROOKED TONGUE Freaky Love (indie)
Featured Albums w/c 10 January (Mon-Fri)
09:00-12:00 BITE THE BULLET End Of The Line (Escape Music)
12:00-13:00 CRYSTAL BALL Crysteria (Massacre Records)
14:00-16:00 SEAN TAYLOR The Beat Goes On (indie)
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