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.
Frustrating, but sheez, is this guy ever consistent. I tell you, if Rory ever decided to let out all of his talent at once, he’d come up with a masterpiece akin to Layla or Disraeli Gears. Instead, he prefers to dilute his talent from album to album. This one has a particularly credible title – except that just about every single Rory Gallagher record could be described as a ‘blueprint’ for all the others.
And yet, the songs are all good: once again, he doesn’t diverge from the standard blues pattern much, but he sure diverges enough to make the tracks interesting. The ‘non-standard’ tracks this time are represented by a) a beautiful ballad, ‘Daughter Of The Everglades’, with excellent keyboard work from Lou Martin and strangely evocative Celtic-style atmosphere, and b) a funny acoustic interlude, ‘Unmilitary Two-Step’, which is exactly what it bills itself as.
Both are wonderfully refreshing and tasteful, and display Rory as a person who’s not afraid to show a wee bit of pretentiousness and a wee bit of concealed humour. And the uprising guitar solo on ‘Daughter of the Everglades’ gotta rank as one of Rory’s most inspired guitar workouts ever captured in the studio. Ah, if only all those wretched power balladeers understood that a ballad must look something like this – not borrowing elements from arena-rockers, but sounding really personal and deeply intimate!
This is the perfect sound I’ve been looking for, and so rarely finding – the closest thing, I guess, is stuff like Clapton’s ‘Let It Grow’, a similar masterpiece of ‘powerful intimacy’ that sounds huge and bombastic but doesn’t use cheap generic power chords to drive its point home.
Apart from that, there’s not much to say that hasn’t been said before – that is, if you’re waiting for some incredible revelation. If not, I could just try to pinch out and pinpoint and pin down the various subtle touches that don’t make Blueprint a smooth and dull record with nothing to hang on to, like, say, Free’s Highway, but make it thoroughly listenable. ‘The Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son’, for instance, has curious lyrics (I’d like to know what they deal with myself!) and a compact, super-tight jam, with the guitar complemented by cool organ work and light breezes of sax.
The album opener, ‘Walk On Hot Coals’, tries to become ‘Laundromat Vol. 2’, with its tale of unhappiness and misery, but doesn’t exactly succeed, because it doesn’t have a riff as distinct as the one used on ‘Laundromat’. Pity, that: a bunch of good riffs could punch up all of those album’s ratings seriously. No dice, though. Still fun.
Finally, the last song on here is a hidden gem as well – ‘If I Had A Reason’ is a country ballad, for sure, but what’s wrong with country ballads if they’re written and performed well? A minimalistic, romantic use of slide guitar in the background, beautiful acoustic guitar/piano interplay and Rory’s tender, a wee bit clumsy lyrics make the day here, and isn’t that a mandolin I hear in the background or did a gadfly die within my ear? Be a good lad and check it out, now.
As usual, I won’t be mentioning the filler because, well, filler is filler, and the problem (or the lack of problem) with Gallagher’s filler is that it ain’t bad: it’s just so undistinctive that all I could say is just “well, it’s a standard blues-rocker with a good solo” or “well, it’s a generic blues shuffle with some nice slide work”. Come to think of it, I said pretty much the same about the highlights – and it’s reviews of records by artists like these that make you rush out in search of a thesaurus (“hey! how many synonyms are there for the word generic?”) – but unless you want me to learn music theory and bug you with graphic notations of chord progressions, you’d better just take my word for it.
If I say “standard blues-rocker with a good solo; highlight”, then that solo is really good, like, say, overdriven and closely reminding me of some kind of human emotion expressed directly. If the word “highlight” isn’t there, well… Make your conclusions yourselves.
Overall, though, I’d call Blueprint somewhat of a stagnation point. Apart from the few true highlights, like ‘Daughter Of The Everglades’ and ‘Seventh Son’, there’s not much to discuss – and the next record, for my money, is far better. Overproductivity sucks.
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.
One thing that Mr Gallagher constantly suffered from in the early Seventies was over productivity – the guy often tossed out two albums per year, and, while this is certainly not surprising from a technical side (after all, it’s not the immaculate production values of Dark Side Of The Moon we’re talking of: Rory always kept things basic and simple), one might actually wonder about, you know, the usual thing – how much time did he actually spend on fine tuning the material?
Deuce is just a typical follow-up: same style, same direction, same guitar tones, same bluesy patterns, but fewer interesting ideas and more generic solutions. On a worse day I wouldn’t have given this more than two, two-and-a-half stars or so; however, I just love the guy for all of his raw, sincere, hard-workin’ attitude, and I’m always ready to add an extra half-star out of generosity and – you said it! – adoration. Yup. Rory’s da man!
Now I already see the readers preparing to stone me with accusations of subjectivity and gruesome bias, but get this: there ain’t a single bad song on the album, just a bunch of boring ones. I mean, when Rory goes singing routine blues like ‘Should’ve Learnt My Lesson’, it can’t but be a disappointment – after all, wasn’t this the guy who displayed signs of true “bluesy creativity” on his first solo record? But would you want to say that the song is a bad one? That the performance sucks? Well, no, I wouldn’t do that. Listen to that guy playing. No, not the solos – listen to the way he holds up the rhythm. That quirky little chug-a-chug-a-chug that holds up the song. Ever heard anybody play the blues like that? Hello, originality!
In any case, let me specifically mention two excellent numbers that save the album from being “consistently enjoyable to the point of forgettable”. The album opener, ‘I’m Not Awake Yet’, is a sincere, emotionally resonant rocker displaying some of Rory’s most stunning and atmospheric acoustic guitar work – he plays some sort of a “flamenco-influenced blues solo” the likes of which I’ve rarely, if ever heard before.
And in an equally ‘disturbing’ mode, he rips into ‘Crest Of A Wave’, which borrows its main riff from ‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’, but in a non-blatant way – and also has some of Rory’s most blazing solos on a record. It’s the kind of song that needs to be played out loud, you know, L-O-U-D, at the top of your speakers’ power, and I dare all the hair metal fans in the world come up to me and state that bands like Cinderella or Poison are more artistically valid than this outburst of prime blues-rock energy. I don’t know why I brought up that subject – I suppose that I haven’t mocked hair metal for quite a long time, and I just couldn’t stand it any more. Sheez, you don’t know how pleasant it is to offend an entire musical genre! Makes you feel glad all over. Dumb as hell, too. Guilty pleasure. Can’t resist it. Hair metal sucks!
Unlike Rory Gallagher, whose creative, imaginative and genuine approach to blues legacy certainly deserves more appreciation from American radio than it has garnered so far (which is, zero, but I can’t really blame American radio: they think that if they have their Muddy Waters, they don’t need no stinkin’ derivative white boy blues. Problem is, I doubt American radio stations have much Muddy Waters, either. So gimme Rory Gallagher at least!). A couple acoustic ballads, like ‘Out Of My Mind’ and the countryish ‘Don’t Know Where I’m Going’, obviously make the grade as well.
The others don’t fare so well, ranging from passable (stuff like ‘In Your Town’, which begins as a promising romp but then deteriorates into mid-tempo and can overall qualify as a poor boy version of ‘Sinner Boy’, with sillier lyrics) to sometimes even slightly embarrassing: the romantic ‘rocker ballad’ ‘There’s A Light’ suffers a lot from Rory’s painful attempts at operatic singing. We all know that singing isn’t Gallagher’s forte: when he screams his lyrics or just blurts out the words in a fast tempo, it’s all fine, but when it actually comes to prolongating notes, he just can’t stand on key, and boy does that hurt.”
Overall, though, if you sum up all the highlights and all the decent material, Deuce still stands up as, well, as something deuc-ent. Lovers of ‘experimental blues rock’ will hardly be disappointed. Unless, of course, you consider Captain Beefheart to be ‘experimental blues-rock’, in which case I reverentially retire.