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Eric Gales: Middle of the Road
by George Graham
(Provogue Records As broadcast on WVIA-FM 4/19/2017)
The blues, as a classic American music form, has definitely not shown any signs of fading away. The music’s influence is profound from traditional jazz to much more contemporary sounds. In recent years, the blues has gone off in different directions. There are the traditionalists who carry on the classic style. As through much of the history of rock, there have been the performers who use the blues as the basis of their own musical exploits including some who might take the blues to hip-hop, including by means of sampling classic old recordings. And in recent years, groups like the Black Keys have brought the sensibility of grunge and alternative bands to the blues.
This week we have a new recording by a veteran blues-rock performer who is rather wide-ranging in his sound on his new album. It’s Eric Gales, and his new release is called Middle of the Road. On it, he proves to be rather eclectic without wandering too far from the mainstream.
Eric Gales was something of a prodigy when he released his first album in 1991 at about age 18. His brothers played the blues and he started playing the guitar at age four, learning to play left handed from his older brother, though Gales is not naturally a leftie. The music he played drew as much from the blues-rock of Jimi Hendrix as much as the mainstream blues players such as B.B. King and Albert King, whom he cites a major early influences. Eric Gales played in a band with his two brothers, Manuel, otherwise known as Little Jimmy King, and Eugene. Eric was signed to Elektra Records in 1990 and following year, released The Eric Gales Band with Eugene. He has been releasing a steady stream of recordings since then with various personnel, and as the Eric Gales Trio. In 1994, he performed with Carlos Santana at the Woodstock 94 festival. His last release, issued last year, was a two-disc live album.
Now Gales is out with Middle of the Road, and its title is bit descriptive and perhaps ironic. Middle of the road music used to be the kind of bland stuff you would hear in the archetypal elevator, and this is definitely not that. But it is a kind of middle path between blues, soul, some funk, and elements of blues-rock psychedelia, hints of hip-hop. It’s also somewhat more eclectic musically than most blues with interesting twists and some occasional unexpected instrumentation. The band on the album is composed of Dylan Wiggins on drums and Aaron Haggerty on organ. Gales plays both guitar and bass by way of overdubbing. There are a couple of guests, including popular millennial blues-rocker Gary Clark, Jr., one track with Gales older brother Eugene, and several featuring the backing vocals of Eric Gales’ wife LaDonna Gales.
Lyrically, the album is outside of the usual blues realm of broken love affairs and infidelity, and instead often dwells on resolving for self-improvement, and generally taking a positive mood.
Leading off is a well-named song called Good Time, whose lyrics urge folks to do just that. It has the energy of African American Gospel. <<>>
Change Me [The Rebirth] is one of those songs that seeks self-redemption. It has a hint of a reggae beat, and some hot guitar work. <<>>
There are a couple of love songs. One is Carry Yourself, whose lyrics take an approach rather different from your usual love-song. <<>>
The track featuring Gary Clark, Jr. is called Boogie Man by Leon Russell, which Gales and band give a distinctive treatment. <<>>
Another song seeking redemption is Been So Long which has almost a kind of ska-influenced beat. It’s one more of the more elaborately produced tracks on the album. <<>>
Eric Gales’ brother Eugene appears on Repetition which also has a bit of a hip-hop approach at times, along with some musical eclecticism including a retro-psychedelic Mellotron keyboard. <<>>
Rather rare for a blues album, Middle of the Road contains an acoustic singer-songwriter ballad Help Me Let Go, which features more of Gales’ somewhat spiritual lyrics. It works quite well. <<>>
The album ends with its one instrumental, Swamp which well-named for its low-down swamp-rock sound. It’s not much on memorable melody, but it has a great groove. <<>>
Memphis bluesman Eric Gales new release Middle of the Road is his roughly 17th as leader or co-leader of a group, not to mention dozens of other in which he appears in a supporting capacity. That experience is readily apparent on his new release. As a blues album, it is more wide-ranging stylistically than most with rock, reggae, soul, and Gospel influence. And lyrically, there are none of the usual blues topics for songs. Instead it is a kind of spiritual journey for redemption or self-improvement. Gales is a first-rate guitarist, playing as much rock-style guitar as blues. It is also a more studio-oriented album than many in the purist blues school, with Gales overdubbing the bass parts throughout the album.
Our grade for sound quality is a “B.” The basic mix has everything audible and in its place, but there are some instances of intentionally over-driving the sound on the vocals, which is a cause for us to issue demerits. And the sound is overly volume-compressed, messing up dynamic range and making the sound artificially loud but bland.
The blues is alive and well, and getting more eclectic these days with blues performers of different generations pulling the music in different directions. Now in his mid-40s, Eric Gales on his new album, spans a number of those facets of the blues, in an enjoyable and interesting new release.
(c) Copyright 2017 George D. Graham. All rights reserved.
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