May 4, 2024

Irish rock and blues god Gary Moore’s musical history is quite complicated. He drifted in and out of rock bands Skid Row and Thin Lizzy, and jazz-rock fusion outfit Colosseum II, releasing his debut as the Gary Moore Band in 1973 and stumping up an impressive session for Andrew Lloyd Webber on his proggy Variations in 1978. But Moore’s solo career really took off with Back On The Streets in 1979, his blisteringly fast lead guitar and hard rock riffing making him a name to be reckoned with. A decade later though, he suddenly and unexpectedly gave up hard rock for blues – OK, it was still electric, heavy blues, but mostly 12-bar, rooted in the past. This lasted for another decade, before his restless musical ambitions moved him to record Dark Days In Paradise, a lush, layered, melodic offering that undoubtedly presents some of his most thoughtful work, but contained very little of his screaming, rocking guitar.

1999’s A Different Beat went even further into left-field, with Moore attempting to marry his bluesy, rocky guitar style with electronic dance music, even dabbling with electronic drums and cut-and-pasted vocal samples. The set included plenty to please guitar fans, as long as they could also tolerate the out-and-out dance beats of Can’t Help Myself, (and its eight-minute remix by Suffolk drum’n’bass outfit E-Z Rollers), and Fatboy, an unashamed tribute to sample and remix supremo Fatboy Slim. A noble enterprise indeed, but it didn’t go down all that well with the fans, and even Moore considered it something of a musical cul-de-sac, reversing out with all speed for his next album.

And thus we come to that next release, a full-on return to the blues in 2001, named – lest there should be any doubt – Back To The Blues. The previous two albums had been difficult work and had taken a lot of time, with Moore exploring new musical styles and feeling his way blindly through unfamiliar territory. The avowed intention of Back To The Blues therefore, was for it to be as spontaneous as possible, with a stripped-back, raw sound. BMG now owns the copyright on the albums that were released on CD by Sanctuary Records during that period, and they have now re-released that pivotal recording, on CD, on digital, and for the very first time, also on vinyl. The original CD track listing stretches over 3 LP sides, so the vinyl edition is a double album, side 4 comprising one single edit and a couple of live renditions. These bonus tracks also appear on the re-issue CD, which is identical to the CD version that appeared in last year’s boxed set The Sanctuary Years 1999-2004.

Moore undoubtedly succeeded in his intention to release a gritty, powerful return to rocking electric blues. To these ears though, he succeeded just a little too well – Moore was arguably the world’s leading bluesman at the time, but there are a million decent blues guitarists out there, and probably most of them could have made a decent stab at this album. It starts promisingly, with the Moore original Enough Of The Blues opening with a verse of down-home front-porch resonator guitar, before bursting into a mid-tempo rocker for the remainder of the track. This is followed by a jazzy take on BB King’s groovy, rolling You Upset Me Baby. Moore keeps up the volume and the rock for the remainder of the set, which is a mixture of originals and standard classics, and the production is excellent, but the choice of covers is as predictable as it gets: a workmanlike rendition of Johnny Guitar Watson’s Looking Back, Jimmy Reed’s I Ain’t Got You, and T-Bone Walker’s Stormy Monday. All great songs, but Moore could play these in his sleep, and the arrangements are as basic as it comes. Even the promising ballad Picture Of The Moon, on which he reverts to the style of Parisienne Walkways or Still Got The Blues, suffers somewhat from a deliberate kind of under-production, with an absolutely dry lead guitar, with no reverb or echo. It has to be said that this was a conscious decision, Moore saying of the album, “We didn’t use a lot of echo and stuff, we just kept it raw.” That’s fine, but the three-minute playout solo doesn’t really build or go anywhere, and the single edit on side 4 simply leaves it out, making it arguably a better version.

Of course, there are some excellent original numbers on the record: Cold Black Night and How Many Lies are both great, riffy, pub blues numbers; The Prophet is a weeping, six-minute instrumental with a howling guitar line and judicious use of volume-knob ambience in the extended playout. The album concludes with a couple of live cuts; the version of Cold Black Night includes the first bit of Moore’s trademark fast guitar on the album, but neither the performance or the mix is anything special. On the other hand, the live version of Stormy Monday is arguably better than the studio version, and therefore well worth its inclusion.

After Moore’s previous dalliances with different styles and genre-mixing, I have no doubt that his hardcore fans would have considered this a triumph and a return to form. With hindsight though, I can’t really rate it amongst Moore’s best work, although it clearly was a cathartic experience for him, as he said, “I stuck to the plan and I was so proud when we finished it; it was exactly the record I’d wanted to make.”

There was still more dabbling to come, with the power-trio punky rock of  side-project Scars the following year. The next out-and-out Gary Moore album though, 2004’s Power Of The Blues, would be a genuine step up, to these ears, and would put Back To The Blues in the shade to some extent. Still, that’s just my opinion, and this album was a necessary step to take in that direction; whether BMG will see fit to re-issue either of those later records remains to be seen. Both the CD and LP versions of this re-release include some excellent sleeve notes from Dave Everly, who also commentated the similar 2022 vinyl re-release of A Different Beat. That addition, and the vinyl double-LP format, are enough to make this a release to be coveted. Enjoy it.

The double LP vinyl re-issue of Gary Moore’s Back To The Blues is out now on BMG