Given that Gary Clark Jr pops up to lend a hand on the fourth track here, a cover of Freddie King’s ‘Boogie Man’, it’s no surprise that for much of Middle Of The Road Eric Gales heads towards similar territory as said Clark – to wit, 21st century bluesy guitar melded to trippy, hip-hop inflected soul and funk stylings.
Gales doesn’t push the envelope as far as Clark, and to these ears that results in a rather smoother, less edgy listening experience. He has a rich, treacly voice well suited to a soulful sound, and for the most part weds it to an ultra-modern, squelchy guitar tone like a state-of-the-art Stylophone.
|Eric Gales - modern boogie man|
At its best this produces something like ‘Been So Long’, a catchy, laid back shot of reggae-fied funk, with a nifty little bass line – Gales also plays bass across the album – and a measured, piercing guitar solo.
The aforesaid ‘Boogie Man’ is built on easy, loping rhythm guitar and bass, with Gales and Clarke trading licks to good effect. ‘Repetition’, meanwhile, has a verse melody that owes more than a fiver to Prince’s ‘Sign O’ The Times’, but moves on from there to find its own place, with some spikier guitar playing courtesy of older brother Eugene Gales.
There are a few variations along the way, with varying degrees of success. The opener ‘Good Time’, for example, is a supple slice of jangling, gospel-ish fun that is really no more than an hors d’oeuvre. Even more peculiarly, ‘Swamp’ is an instrumental that weaves some minor variations and rhythmic tinkering around a briskly repetitive – and I mean repetitive – guitar line. Rather more effectively, ‘Help Yourself’ features persistent chugging guitars that nod vaguely in the direction of North Mississippi hill country, Gales being assisted on this occasion by 16 year-old guitarist Christone ‘Kingfish’ Ingram. And for a denouement Gales combines acoustic strumming and minimal percussion to deliver something simple and sensitive with ‘Help Me Let Go’.
By all accounts MiddleOf The Road is the story of Gales’ renaissance after a 2009 jail sentence for possession of drugs and a weapon. As comebacks go it’s a solid piece of work, well put together with just enough quirkiness and stinging guitar to stand out from the herd. Personally I’d have liked a tad more seasoning in the song writing at times, a bit more light and shade, a bit more edge. But if you’re up for some adventures in post-Prince guitar-orientated soul, Eric Gales is a good place to start.
Middle Of The Road is released by Mascot/Provogue on 21 February 2017