(5 / 5)
Middle of the road by name, but most definitely not by nature. One of the strongest blues releases thus far in 2017 and destined for a clutch of awards and “best of” lists for sure. Eric Gales has been around the block a few times in a lengthy career, but there’s no sign of him running out of steam, potence or ideas just yet. Far from it….
His latest release, “Middle Of The Road,” is a triumph. It’s ballsy, it’s distinctive and it is the mark of a powerful artist at the top of his game. Not just as an ace axeman either. As a singer and as a songwriter too, ‘it is all here.
He has some starry mates along for the ride; Gary Clark Jr, Lauryn Hill, Eugene Gales, LaDonna Gales, Lance Lopez, Raphael Saadiq and Christone ‘Kingfish’ Ingram. They were not needed to prop up a weak release, no sir. The songs are here and the voice and guitar is as powerful as it has ever been in his entire career.
It is billed as the “rebirth” of Eric Gales and talks about “a lifetime of inspiration,” Even before this blistering release drops, he has turned heads with his guitar playing. Joe Bonamassa calls him possibly the best guitar player in the world. Carlos Santana says he is “absolutely incredible.”
But this record is about far, far, far more than Eric the guitarist. It is a biographical journal of his journey through troubles and tribulations, his pain, taking the wrong road, heartache and joy. His life writ large. But you can hear he’s in a good place now, he is free, unshackled and ready to fly. And fly he does. He soars.
The title, ‘Middle of the Road’ is the running theme throughout the record. “It’s about being fully focussed and centred in the middle of the road. If you’re on the wrong side and in the gravel you’re not too good and if you’re on the median strip that’s not too good either, so being in the middle of the road is the best place to be”, so says Eric.”
Gales was a child prodigy and heralded as the second coming of Jimi Hendrix when he released his debut album “The Eric Gales Band”, in 1991 as a 16-year-old, on Elektra Records. It was the first of 10 albums on a major label.
He has released 14 studio albums in total ahead of this new one, and a host of other collaborations, one of which led him to work with the producer of this album, Fabrizio Grossi (Alice Cooper, Joe Bonamassa, Billy F. Gibbons, Ice T, Leslie West, Slash, Walter Trout, Steve Lukather, Steve Vai, Paul Stanley, Supersonic Blues Machine). Fabrizio has labelled Eric: “Miles Davis and Jimi Hendrix’ love child!”
The band behind Eric – who sang lead vocals, played guitar and all the bass parts across the record – are top drawer. Aaron Haggerty (drums), Dylan Wiggins (B3 Organ), Eric’s wife LaDonna Gales (All backing vocals), Maxwell ‘Wizard’ Drummey (Mellotron on Repetition).
His life and career today are a far cry from his time suffering heavy addiction, and serving a jail term for drugs and gun possession. Opener “Good Time,” takes us to church with the pleasant upbeat Gospel flavoured semi-instrumental before the reggae-tinged “Change In Me (The Rebirth)” which features some audacious guitar licks. Eric’s vocal natural and relaxed.
Four tracks in, the sole cover here, the song that Freddie King and John Lee Hooker made their own, “The Boogie Man”, where Eric and Gary Clark Jr interweave their fretboard magic to create a tapestry of goodness. Next, “Been So Long,” sits on a funk meets reggae tip and fuzzed up guitar. The vocal is chilled and soulful – Lauryn Hill on backing vocals. “Help Yourself” featuring 16-year-old guitar sensation Christone “Kingfish” Ingram, kicks off on an acoustic roots vibe and then bursts into life with the full band, an infectious riff at its core.
What I do appreciate is the fat-free use of guitars across this album; in as much as there are not great big, elongated guitar solos all over the shop. There’s plenty of guitar porn for those who crave it, but in measured doses and that works really well. There’s screaming guitar fodder on “I’ve Been Deceived,” that will surely get Jimi comparisons. Eric wrote this about how he felt deceived by drugs during his dark days of addiction. The very Prince-like in structure “Repetition,” features Eric’s “big brother” Eugene Gales on guitar. A mean and moody treatment built upon a dirty bass line.
“Help Me Let Go,” eases up the tempo, with a gentle and soulful ballad, where Eric’s emotion-drenched vocal never sounded better. A gorgeous piece of songwriting, and sparse production values that allow the song and the stunning vocal to take the spotlight. The penultimate track, “I Don’t Know,” really is a killer cut. I’d have kicked off the 11-strong set with this funky little gem. Mr Gayle sure can find the groove and nail it.
“Swamp” closes proceedings. An apt title for this rootsy 100MPH blistering instrumental, which somewhat channels Robert Randolph and Family Band, and reminds me of a cut from the 1990 album “Family Style” that SRV and his brother Jimmie made together.
This album may naturally nod to some of the blues greats, but as much to the likes of Sly Stone and Lenny Kravitz to my ears. But it is VERY much the sound of Eric Gales and no one else. As contemporary as you can get with this genre; many layers to unwrap the more spins you give it. A real mutha of an album, and most likely to attract these words eventually: “And the Grammy goes to……………..”
By Simon Redley
(2 / 5) ‘OK Zone’
(3 / 5) ‘Decent Zone’
(4 / 5) ‘Super Zone’
(5 / 5) ‘Awesome Zone’