Sunday, January 23, 2022

Eric Gales - Crown

Gallus.  It’s a Scottish word.  It means cocky, bold, maybe a bit flashy, and the way Eric Gales introduces himself on Crown – I won’t spoil it for you – is a good example.  The cap fits Eric Gales the guitar player too, who often floats like a six-string butterfly and stings like a bee.
This side of Gales is most in-yer-face on ‘I Want My Crown’, on which he comically calls out co-producer Joe Bonamassa for a guitar-duelling title bout like Ali taunting Sonny Liston.  It’s a fun track too – funky with its tripping drums, thrumming bass, ooh-ing backing vox and shuckin’ an’ jivin’ horns, all of which is just the backdrop for Gales and Jo Bo to rip out some high-octane solos.  Not that Gales needs much of an excuse to put his pedal to the metal.  Opener ‘Death Of
"Yes you, Eric Gales! This review's about you - ain't nobody else here!"
Pic by Katrina Size
Me’ may not really be a drag race of a track, with its heartbeat rhythm and stabbing, thrusting staircase of a riff, but if sheer notes-per-bar is your thang then Gales’ squirrelling, fluttering solo will surely get your juices flowing.
But here’s the thing – lyrically ‘Death Of Me’ isn’t gallus at all.  Instead, singing in a calm voice, Gales ponders the missteps of his youth, and the advice he’d give his younger self now if he had the chance.  See, Eric Gales is a more complex guy than just the cocksure guitar wrangler that's his most obvious face.
He reflects further on his past with songs like ‘Survivor’, ‘You Don’t Know The Blues’, and ‘My Own Best Friend’, and from more than one perspective.  The first of these is tough and lean with a wiry riff, well-suited to a tale of resilience in the face of pressure, which he then embellishes with a typically sizzling solo over a Free-like, bass-leaning riff, while lush organ adds more colour.  ‘You Don’t Know The Blues’ lays out the circumstances that delineate a truly hard life, but rather than going for the obvious, angry blues-rock assault, it’s a loping affair, keeping it matter of fact until Gales ignites a strident solo.  And the middling ‘My Own Best Friend’ stresses the need to learn self-respect, with a lower key, mellifluous solo that recaptures the interest with an unusual theme.
There are the tunes too, that describe the black person’s experience.  ‘The Storm’ is a smooth and soulful song in a Robert Cray vein, with Gales asking “How can you love what I do, but hate who I am?”, and adding “Only love can erase the hate, I’m a witness to that,” before shifting gear and vocally whooping along to a hummingbird-like solo.  ‘Stand Up’, with its breathy backing vocal interjections has an almost romantic vibe that seems incongruous for a song about the need to stand up to racists, and those who think artists should “know their place”.  But it just about works, as Gales’ take is sorrowful rather than bitter, right the way to its subtle electric piano outro.  The mellow arrangement of ‘Too Close To The Fire’ is less successful though, failing to reflect the lyrical tension about the positive relationship he has with an audience and the alienation he often feels on the street, and Gales’ solo remains stuck in this restrained furrow until finally he kicks out the jams and dials up some howling tension and release.
And then there’s romantic Eric, who takes a very different musical turn on ‘I Found Her’, a love song to his missus LaDonna that’s simple and effective when it relies mostly on acoustic strumming and Parisian-style accordion, folding in a quasi-classical acoustic solo.  Does it really need the big, Bonamassa-like epic segment, with its wig-out electric solo, to fully express his affections?  Maybe not, but decide for yourself.  Speaking of LaDonna Gales, Gales’ “Number 1 soul sister” gets her own showcase on ‘Take Me Just As I Am’, displaying a fair old set of pipes, and expressively too, over a strutting James Brown-esque funk workout.
There are a couple of other fun tracks along the way, and three instrumental snippets too, of which only the howling Hendrix sketch ‘Rattlin’ Change’ is worthy of note.  By the time Gales serves up the pseudo-live show-closing jam groove of ‘I Gotta Go’, he may be back in gallus mode, but he’s shown us numerous sides of his personality, musical and otherwise, and kudos to him for that.  Eric Gales is a modern-day axe hero, but Crown makes it clear he’s not a two-dimensional cartoon axe hero.
Crown is released on 28 January by Provogue Records/Mascot Label Group, and can be pre-ordered here.

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