Classic Rock Review

The home of old record and bootleg reviews…

Rory Gallagher Tattoo (1973)


As close as Rory ever came around to a masterpiece, Tattoo still has its flaws, but each subsequent listen still makes it shine rather than dim. Perhaps the best news is that Rory’s backing band has finally managed to gel tightly, transformed into a compact, decisive unit where every player is given his due, particularly the keyboard player Lou Martin, whose presence really notches up the entertainment factor seriously. Thus, even the potential filler is able to develop into a tight, impressive jam session with lots of headbanging potential.

Not only that – the songs themselves are among the strongest ever penned by Rory. Lyrically, Tattoo is a very introspective album, filled with melancholy, thought provoking ballads and bitter rockers and only occasionally marred by standard blues cliches. Musically, almost every song has something to say – Rory carefully evades banal passages, throwing out cool riffs and unexpected tempo changes to keep the melodies interesting. Granted, it’s not always noticeable at first sight, but a careful listen to each of the songs shows that they are, indeed, superbly crafted.

Let’s take a short tour again. ‘Tattoo’d Lady’, beginning with a short ominous ‘noisy’ section, turns out to be a wonderfully humble and heartbreaking ‘fast ballad’ with some of Rory’s most evocative (aka incomprehensible) lyrics: ‘Tattoo’d lady, bearded baby, they’re my family, when I was lonely, something told me where I could always be’? What the hell is that? Whatever it is, it’s sung beautifully, and if Rory’s pleading vocal intonations won’t help you achieve purity, maybe the stern organ/piano work and the scorching guitar solos will. I love the song – and I could care less if Rory is just trying to sound like a cross between Muddy Waters and Bob Dylan. He sings it like he means it.

One song’s not enough, though – and it’s immediately followed by one of Rory’s most aggressive pieces of music, the tremendous rocker ‘Cradle Rock’, where, again, the state of ecstasy is reached through a careful guitar/organ interplay. Lou Martin really shines on here, and Rory’s slide solos rock heavier than Deep Purple, if that’s possible, at least, if we understand “heavy” as “violent”.
These two numbers are the obvious highlights, but it doesn’t objectively get any worse after that – it just gets subtler. ’20/20 Vision’ is a more standard blues number, in the classic Delta tradition, but adorned with some particularly jazzy piano lines from Mr Martin and hilarious original lyrics (‘people talk about her like she was a diamond on the shelf, well I got 20/20 vision I can see that for myself’).

‘They Don’t Make Them Like You Anymore’ throws us some more jazz, and it’s hardly a highlight, but it’s interesting to see Mr Gallagher tackle some be-bop. ‘Livin’ Like A Trucker’ ain’t my favourite either – nice wah-wah work, but the genericness factor is a little overdone. These two songs, mainly, are the reason why the album sags in the middle and lacks that absolute perfection which I’ve been waiting for so much, but none of them are supposed to be centrepieces, so why complain?

The centrepieces come on later. ‘Sleep On A Clothes-Line’ and ‘Who’s That Coming’, as I’ve been mentioning above, are those monsters that eventually develop into brilliant jams, perhaps not of a Clapton-Duane Allman quality, but certainly close – after all, there’s only one guitarist involved. ‘Who’s That Coming’ is especially impressive; boy, does Mr Martin really annihilate his keyboards on that one! Just imagine, a storm on your piano, a thunderstorm of notes from your slide guitar, and a cool, tight rhythm section hacking it up in the background, and it all flows along as perfectly as the river Nile or something. Now that’s music.

Finally, ‘A Million Miles Away’ is subtle, gentle and dreamy, just the kind of ballad that’s most perfectly suited for Rory’s simple, sincere, emotional approach – and watch out for that minimalistic ‘clicking’ guitar, whose very sound would be only later on picked up by Clapton and Mark Knopfler. But so as not to depress us towards the end, Rory ends the album on a more generic note: ‘Admit It’ has the most cliched blues-rock lyrics imaginable, but they’re compensated with a neat approach to the song’s riffage. Cool descending riff in the chorus, great funky bassline. What else do you want?

It’s all the more amazing to realize that this record was hastily assembled during a short gap in Rory’s incessant touring program and, according to all parameters, was a rushed one. I’d be the last man to suppose that Rory worked better under pressure – after all, if you’re just a blues-rocker and you’re pressed, what would be easier than to record a quick set of covers and ripped-off originals without bothering about originality or creativity or anything? You don’t have to invent melodies, so why bother? There’s simply no logical explanation to the fact.

So instead of inflating my head, let me just tell you that you gotta go out and get a grab on this record while it’s still in print. Seventies’ blues-rock at its very, very best.

April 17, 2013 Posted by | Rory Gallagher Tattoo | | Leave a comment