Essential Montreux

Gary Moore

Blues-rock guitarist Gary Moore is Ireland’s answer to Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughn. Having earned his stripes with Thin Lizzy, Moore embarked on a solo career in the early 80s and never looked back. The only major alteration in the guitarist’s oeuvre was the abandonment of hard rock in favor of the pure sentiment of the blues in 1990. That’s when Moore released his album Still Got The Blues and played the famous Montreux Jazz Festival, where the guitarist and his impressive feel and style were welcomed with open arms.

He came back to the festival at least four more times (1995, 1997, 1999, and 2001) — each appearance marked with its own twists and turns, but secured firmly in the language of the blues. Although previous CDs have been released, Eagle Records has now collected all five performances and released a five-CD box set called Essential Montreux. This is the definitive word on the nimble and fiery fingers of Gary Moore tearing down the house and retrofitting each and every measure with a slap of the blues.

For his first appearance at Montreux on July 7, 1990, Moore ripped all the shingles off the roof and made sweet love to his guitar. From those first few licks of Otis Rush’s “All Your Love” — straight from Still Got The Blues to a set staple that appears on three other discs in the set — to Roy Buchanan’s revelatory “The Messiah Will Come Again,” it’s easy to see that Moore and his band (horns included) are keen on playing a scorcher for the notoriously finicky Swiss audience. Lots of the songs get reprised, allowing a precedent to form and take shape. But it’s hard to beat this first disc — if for no other reason than Albert Collins joins Moore for “Too Tired,” Cold Cold Feeling,” “Further On Up The Road” and “King Of The Blues.” It’s almost like the changing of the guard as Collins, who died in 1993, hands off the blues baton to Moore.

Moore would return to Montreux on July 16, 1995, this time in support of Blues For Greeny, his tribute album to Fleetwood Mac guitarist Peter Green. A sizable portion of the set includes Green’s songs — “If You Be My Baby,” “Long Grey Mare,” “Merry-Go-Round” and “I Loved Another Woman.” Then it’s on to a little Willie Dixon (“You Don’t Love Me”), John Mayall (“Key To Love”) and another stab at “All Your Love” before Moore pulls out “Since I Met You Baby,” one of his own from 1982’s After Hours. He returns to another Peter Green tune, “Stop Messing Around” before finishing off with Duster Bennett’s “Jumping At Shadows,” covered extensively by Fleetwood Mac in the late 60s.

On July 9, 1997, Moore came to Montreux with a different agenda. Dark Days In Paradise, the album he released that year, was a more on the easy-listening side (although Moore’s searing guitar work remained intact). Fortunately, both “One Good Reason” and “Cold Wind Blows” get a strong lift on stage, despite any reservations. The band is bigger, smoother, fuller, shinier. Moore adapts well as he stirs the big ship through mostly original compositions, peppered with synths and other textured spicings. He makes up for any misgivings by dusting off “Parisienne Walkways,” a song written by the guitarist and late Thin Lizzy bassist Phil Lynott for 1979’s Back On The Streets. Moore gives it a hefty work-out, affirming he’s still got his chops even as he swims upstream, in a more commercial direction.

The arrangements are stripped down and roughed up for Moore’s next appearance at Montreux on July 7, 1999. The guitarist stuck to a proven setlist — mixing blues standards with his own well-known (by then) hits like “Still Got The Blues” and “Too Tired.” Highlights of this concert are covers of the Elmore James classic “The Sky Is Crying” and Hendrix’s “Fire,” which appeared on A Different Beat, Moore’s forthcoming solo album that year. On both, Moore makes his guitar scream with zeal and distortion. Without the horns, synths and slick embellishments, this performance may be the purest of the five.

For his July 6, 2001 appearance at the Montreux Jazz Festival, Moore fully reasserted his strong grasp of the blues with equal measures of restraint and balls-out bravado. He breaks out “You Upset Me Baby,” “Cold Black Night,” “Stormy Monday” and the alluring, set-closing “The Prophet” from his 2001 release, Back To The Blues. Resurrecting “All Your Love,” “Still Got The Blues,” “Too Tired” and “Fire,” the guitarist capably pile-drives his stinging six-stringer, sustaining the splendor and dynamics of the blues on this final disc. Taken as a whole, Essential Montreux serves up a whole lotta blues played with precision and tender loving care by Moore and his faithful, uncredited band. Still pumping out blues records to this day, it’s inevitable that Moore will continue to dazzle crowds at festivals staged in the Swiss hamlet of Montreux for years to come. Just you wait and see.

Shawn Perry

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