Fresh Evidence
Wheels Within Wheels
BBC Sessions

Rory Gallagher

Perhaps you have already heard this story: Jimi Hendrix was once asked, "What is it like to be the world's greatest guitar player?" Hendrix replied, "I wouldn't know. Ask Rory Gallagher." From my understanding, this little incident did not actually happen. But, it does sound conceivable. After all, aside from Hendrix, Gallagher could quite easily be the best guitarist who ever lived.

The blues-loving Irishman never received the commercial fame he deserved, but you have to wonder - did he truly care? This question would validate the fact that the man was a true musician. In other words, he did not need radio airplay or acceptance by the masses; he did not get inspiration from record sales, but rather, the self-satisfaction of his own work, and the love from his true fans.

Gallagher just simply wanted to speak his heart through his lyrics and his playing. Commercial acceptance means nothing more than some pre-conceived ideas of demonstrating your talent based what upon the labels want you to do, and appeasing the fair-weather, trendy fans.

Money is nice, but at the end of the day, you have accomplished nothing. You just merely watered your true calling down to become yet another product on an assembly line. Most of the record-buying public does not include musicians. The majority of the general music audience is into "whatever is current." Rory Gallagher was not the type to construct a song based upon anyone's prerequisites. He preferred to write songs he felt comfortable with. It made no difference to him whether a million people or a dozen people loved his music. Performing, and writing - that was his satisfaction.

Over 2010 and 2011, Eagle Rock Entertainment, in conjunction with the Gallagher family, has reissued several titles from the Rory Gallagher catalog. All releases are remixed, and include bonus material and informative liner notes. Older (read: true) fans will, of course, already own many of these songs, in some form or other.

Fresh Evidence, originally recorded in 1990, was Gallagher's final studio release. The CD features 12 tracks, two of which are added bonuses. Personally, I feel this CD is a bit unbalanced. Gallagher may have attempted to put too much on his plate, perhaps in an attempt to find a wider audience. I don't mean to imply he leaned towards "selling out"; but rather, he made an attempt to reach out to other music lovers that would appreciate his skill. Fresh Evidence is not, by any means, bad. Every track works fine on its own. But it's not until the sixth track - "Ghost Blues" - that the record really find its footing.

Opening track "Kid Gloves" shows potential, but lacks the "oomph" that it really needs to kick off a CD. "The King Is Kydeco" is the same. I sense a hesitation, almost as if Gallagher wasn't too happy with the tracks, and decided to let them stand on their own, hoping for the best. ?,p> On "Ghost Blues," the Celtic intro is beautiful and haunting. It really delivers a misleading feel based upon its inevitable "wallop." The dynamic beat is hypnotic and reaches out and grabs the listener. The harmonica playing really puts a dynamic layer on what is already an amazing track.

"The Loop," a personal favorite, is bluesy, bordering on commercial pop without really stepping into predictable territory. "Slumming Angel" is hypnotic, almost psychedelic, to an extent. Very 60s influenced without being self-serving. Overall, the strong overshadow the weak. My complaint only would be that if there were just a few more stronger tracks, this could have been one of Gallagher's finest moments.

Defenders was originally released in 1987 on the guitarist's own Capo label. This allowed him more artistic freedom and it shows. "Kickback City" is, lyrically, a middle finger to corporate rock. Dealing with Gallagher's refusal to compromise, it gives the listener a sense of sharing his triumph. "Loanshark Blues" has always been a fan favorite, and is heavy on the blues, with lush keyboard work. Tracks like "Road To Hell" and a cover of Sonny Boy Williamson's "Don't Start Me To Talking" are absolute gems.

Bottom line: some of Gallagher's best lyrics really make themselves apparent on this album. I don't find it to be his best guitar work - at least not in comparison to other of his recordings. Therefore, this may not be the best CD for a newcomer to delve into - at least not until they become more familiar with his style and nuances.

Wheels Within Wheels is a posthumous release put together by the guitarist's brother Donal and originally issued in 2003. A wide array of styles, including traditional blues, bluegrass and Irish folk, it is a beautifully written, and of course, well-performed, album. With the concept of bands performing unplugged, this release really cuts out a template in stone of how a true unplugged acoustic album should sound. Acoustic sets strip down all pretenses, becoming a raw form of live performing.

The songwriting, which combines elements of blues, bluegrass, and Irish folk, is really brought to the forefront. The material is "what it is" and any blemishes to the songwriting are more apparent. If you make it work, it simply proves what an amazing musician and songwriter you are. And this is where Rory Gallagher shines. Wheels Within Wheels should be mandatory listening for any artist, wishing to perform an acoustic set.

BBC Sessions is the best out of these four - the final batch of the massive Rory Gallagher CD reissue campaign. Without question Gallagher solidifies the statement: "You just gotta see this guy live." A double CD set, there are 10 live, in-concert cuts that are all simply a fraction away from perfection. Songs like "Calling Card" and "Jacknife Beat" will have listeners feeling chills down their spines. "Cruise On Out," the set's closer, alone, makes this live disc one of the best live recordings from any artist, bar none. The frustration factor is the fact that it leaves the listener wanting more, which, in itself, may be a good thing. It compels the listener, who may not have already heard Gallagher's music, to seek out other releases.

The second disc features live studio BBC broadcasts of Gallagher's music. Without any surprise, it is an excellent counterpart to the first disc. Straight-forward blues, delta blues, and a heavy dash of down-home rock and roll. Gallagher, yet again, displays his wide array of musical influences.

Whether these reissues garnish new fans remains to be seen. If nothing else, they are fine additions to the previous reissues and prized collections of true Gallagher fans, especially with the bonus material and remixing.

The Gallagher-Hendrix comparisons may be a stretch - to a majority of rock fans. Perhaps it may be best for Gallagher to remain that gem, only for his fans to keep to themselves. After all, Gallagher never wanted commercial fame, and maybe this is just how he would like his material to remain - for the fans.

~ Bruce Forrest

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