Classic Rock Review

The home of old record and bootleg reviews…

Rory Gallagher Rory Gallagher (1971)


Did anybody make a big point of Rory Gallagher, Irish bluesman-de-force, going solo? Probably not. After all, Taste was Rory, and Rory was Taste, and they didn’t have a huge lot of fans even during their heyday. The important thing here is: Rory Gallagher, Irish bluesman-de-force, never made a big point of people not making a big point out of his going solo. “I don’t give a damn” is written all over his career, and on this particular album in particular.

Rory Gallagher, I suppose, can be called “blues-rock”, but I’m a bit reluctant to use the term. These days, every mention of the term “blues-rock” seems to bring to mind visions of a scruffy, unshaved guy with a raspy voice singing ‘I woke up this morning, my baby was gone’ about as nonchalantly as if said event occurred to him every morning and then proceeding to wank on his Gibson or Fender for seven minutes before telling us said information again so we do not forget to empathize. Then we call the event “cherishing the tradition” and the scruffy guy “saviour of the good old music” and proceed to listen to approximately fifty thousand more guys that sound exactly like him.

However, this Irish gentleman ain’t just a scruffy guy. During his Taste years, Mr Gallagher had seriously nurtured, bred, and solidified his songwriting skills, and his debut album, while definitely written from inside the safe womb of the blues-rock pattern, doesn’t just replay the same tired 4/4 beats over and over again – there’s a lot of individuality on here, and a lot of unique appeal. One interesting thing is that Rory never really rips off anybody – not to my knowledge, at least, or if he does, he digs really deep to extract his rip-offs from. Unlike, for instance, Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac circa 1967-68, he builds on the legacy of the great bluesmasters rather than directly pillages it, and as a result – cool, creative, and occasionally complex melodies abound on here!

Okay, not all of them are particularly great. You do have to get in the spirit, and some of this stuff warrants relistening, but (re)listening to Rory Gallagher is never a tiring process. You know when you have to relisten to, I dunno, oh, a Grand Funk Railroad album over and over again? Now that’s tiring business for you, especially if there’s a couple eight-minute “soulful” statements about Jesus, overpopulation, or commie infiltration thrown in the mix. Because the vibes aren’t positive there. They pretend to be, but they’re thick, bloated, and dumb. This can’t be positive. Rory Gallagher is subtle, humble, and clever. You can’t really hate this album unless you’re a reeeeeeeally mean motherfucker. At least, I hope so.

“Individual” is the key word here – this is clearly the work of one creative and artistic unit of a guy, even if he does have a backing band. The songs are all dark and depressing (for the most part), just as expected from a blues-rock record, but they’re all dark and depressing in a distinctly “European” kind of way – with ironic light-philosophic lyrics, nearly free of sexual problems, and above all, a lot of hard-rockin’ drive that the ancient blues masters wouldn’t have appreciated (why? because there was no hard rock in their times. It took me some time to figure it out, though). Not that Rory Gallagher is a particularly hard rocking album – on the contrary, it can sound rather tame compared with Rory’s subsequent output, not to mention live renditions of the same tunes – but it certainly boasts a dirty, sloppy (intentionally sloppy, of course) sound to save it from sterility.

Of course, what with all the depressing, yet amazingly romantic atmosphere (“romantic” in its initial meaning – concerning loneliness, isolation and artsiness, not “romantic” in the ‘Let Me Put My Love Into You’ sense, you gotta understand), there is a serious percentage of filler on here, because, for Chrissake, if you want to stay within the roots-rock pattern and yet deliver the goodies endlessly, you’ll have to be a John Fogerty, and there’s only one in this world. Still, even Mr Fogerty had rarely, or never, penned anything as depressing and heart-gripping as the epic number ‘I Fall Apart’, a soft, pleading ballad that slowly grows towards a series of magnificent instrumental climaxes that are no Yes when it comes to professionalism, but easily demonstrate that Mr Rory Gallagher is a proud and patented owner of a bleeding heart; how else could you reach such an overemotional state of mind? The guitar symphony at the end is breathtaking in its own minor way, and fully compensates for any uncomfortable situations should they arise with any of the other songs.

Among the other highlights we should mention the opening raunchy rocker ‘Laundromat’, based around a riff that bears an uncanny similarity to Taste’s ‘Same Old Story’ and featuring curious lyrics. (I mean, not often will you encounter a hardcore blues-rocker beginning a song with ‘What do you think of that?/I’m sleeping down at the laundromat!’. No, but really). As for the slide masterpiece ‘Sinner Boy’, as far as I know, it was supposed to be recorded for the next Taste album; the guys were performing the number at the Isle of Wight festival. (In fact, its inclusion into the movie and Rory’s frantic slide solos there was what got me into the band in the first place). As is usual with Rory, this here version is slightly inferior to the Taste’s live take on it, but it still presents him as one of good old Britain’s most entertaining ‘sliders’. I’m a big sucker for great slide guitar, especially when the “slide” aspect of it is properly emphasized – and Rory’s technique and passion are impeccable.

The album weakens a bit towards the end, where Rory has to rely on more electric piano and even brass to hold up the entertainment factor, but on the other hand, it gets more diverse. The seven-minute monster ‘Can’t Believe It’s You’ seriously digs into jazz territory, and not just because of the brass section and the closing sax solo – some of the lines played by Rory here are quite jazzy in nature. ‘It’s You’ brings us to the country, which isn’t really Rory’s prime domain, but it’s still interesting to see him try his own independent variation on country themes; the very fact that he’s not a professional Nashville goer actually helps him be more convincing. And on ‘Hands Up’, a fast piece of boogie, he seems to be soloing against the melody, bringing in a curious note of dissonance and for a minute or two almost carrying us into free jazz territory.

The funny thing is that the two most “generic” tunes on my CD edition actually happen to be bonus tracks – covers of Muddy Waters’ ‘Gypsy Queen’ and Otis Rush’ ‘It Takes Time’. They’re well performed (especially the second one), but if this kind of material happened to constitute the bulk of the main album, chances are I’d never even think about reviewing it. Unlike Eric Clapton, who had (still has) a knack for taking blues classics and making them his own, Rory had always been more successful with self-penned stuff. When he’s doing ‘Gypsy Queen’, he’s doing somebody else’s ‘Gypsy Queen’; it’s good to hear if you’re sipping your beer at the bar, but not elsewhere. When he’s doing ‘I Fall Apart’, though, he IS falling apart! In the good sense, that is.

April 12, 2013 Posted by | Rory Gallagher Rory Gallagher | | Leave a comment