My name is Eric Gales. Any questions?
Eric Gales is one of those guitarists who, like Jeff Healey, plays his guitar all wrong, but it sounds so right. The left-hander plays his right-handed Strat left-handed and upside-down, building on the spirit of Hendrix with incendiary licks and charismatic stage craft. If it hadn’t been for his self-sabotaging history of drugs and other issues, maybe it would be him standing at the pinnacle of the blues world instead of Joe Bonamassa. Nevertheless, now clean and hungry, his close bond with Bonamassa may still help propel him to the top. Joe and his business partner Josh Smith have taken on production duties for Gales’ new album, in which he bares his soul over issues of substance abuse, racism and disappointment.
To get us in the mood though, Gales throws down the gauntlet with a few challenging words to open the album: “My name is Eric Gales. Any questions?” before launching into an ominous slow riff for opening track The Death Of Me. Bass and guitar play the riff in slightly dissonant harmony, with backing vocals from Gales’ wife LaDonna, who also plays various percussion in his band. There is a great, slippery, shredding solo with some deep wah-pedal on this one. Second track The Storm opens unusually, with Gales singing the first verse completely unaccompanied, before launching into a groovy, slow funk number with a horn section thrown in. It’s pure Robert Cray, even down to the soloing style, with Gales returning to his own slick, slippery style for the fadeout solo. The first of three short vignettes follows, with the 30-scond Had To Dip, with its Stevie Ray Vaughan style jam, then into the cheeky first single, I Want My Crown, featuring a guitar duel with Bonamassa. The number itself is more funky soul than blues, but the video (featured at the foot of the page) is well worth a watch – Gales has Bonamassa’s crown in his sights, and the two face off in the ring with guitars, slamming each other with their most badass licks. Use your own judgment to decide who wins that bout; there’s clearly no knockout winner, I reckon it will go on points.
A bit of a change of mood for Stand Up, a slow, bluesy ballad with mellow keys and a beautifully tasteful solo, somewhat at odds with its defensive, challenging lyrical content. Survivor and You Don’t Know The Blues both pick up on Gales’ struggles with racial aggression, police attention and a host of other issues, followed by a second vignette, the one-minute Rattlin’ Change. This is brilliant, pure hard and heavy Hendrix riffage; I hope it comes back one day as a full track.
It’s been good so far, but Too Close To The Fire is the standout highlight for this reviewer; another race lament, referencing the Ku Klux Klan-incited Mississippi burning of 1964. The track drifts in and out of Pink Floyd ambience, and although Gales’ style is way different to Dave Gilmour’s, the soaring end solo is played out over a pure Floyd riff, complete with massed female backing vocals – just superb.
Another highlight follows straight after, with the gently amusing Put That Back, featuring someone who really should be Eric’s mum, commanding “Put that back Eric!” and the chorus refrain of “Put that back where you found it!” It’s a great, funky groove too. LaDonna sings Take Me Just As I Am, with its extra percussion and horns, and with Gales coming to the mic at one point to order us all to pay her some attention. Cupcakin’ is another short, groovy interlude of less than a minute, followed by the mid-tempo funk of Let Me Start This, with some heavily-effected guitar work. Another total change of pace follows, with the French bistro romance of I Found Her, with acoustic guitar picking, a mellodion or accordion of some kind, and even a mandolin. The drums come thudding in unexpectedly at four and a half minutes, and suddenly it’s a big, Gary Moore soft metal lighter-waving anthem in the vein of Parisienne Walkways – then just as suddenly back to solo accordion at the end. You can almost see the baguettes sticking out of the grocery bags.
My Own Best Friend is a slow, smoky blues ballad with rim-shot rhythm, bringing the album to the hour mark, but then he finishes on another cheeky pastiche – I Gotta Go is a fast and frenetic set-ending jam, in which he chats to an imaginary audience, including the obligatory stereotypical band introductions, in his deepest Texas twang. It could be cringeworthy, but it’s brilliantly done, and finishes the album on a high, exactly as those end-of-evening thrashes are supposed to. The hour-long mix of funk, soul, rock, jazz and blues would be a triumph in anyone’s hands, but Gales isn’t just anyone, he’s a hurricane force of nature. Whether he deserves the crown may be a matter of opinion – but if he ever gets it, it will be a brave man who tries to take it off him.
Eric Gales ascends the throne on his career-defining new album ‘Crown,’ out January 28th via Provogue Records/Mascot Label Group