If not exactly a contemporary of British blues-rock guitarists like Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page, Ireland's Rory Gallagher came of age in the wake of trailblazers like the Yardbirds and Cream. From the time of Taste's 1969 self-titled debut album, through an acclaimed solo career that began in 1971 and resulted in over a dozen albums until Gallagher's tragic death in 1995, the guitarist earned a well-deserved reputation for powerful guitarplay; gruff, soulful vocals; and a skilled manipulation of blues and rock music that easily rivaled that of Clapton and Page as well as peers like Gary Moore and Mick Taylor.
Interest in Rory Gallagher and his music continues to grow some 15 years after his death and, luckily for us punters, there seems to be a deep well of archive material being brought up by bucket and chain and trickled into the marketplace on compact disc and DVD. Gallagher's The Beat Club Sessions represents a new high in the guitarist's growing catalog, a dozen white-hot performances that burn brighter than phosphorus, blasting through the eardrums to rattle around in the brain like a maddening sustain. Recorded during three of Gallagher's frequent appearances on the German television program The Beat Club, the album (and accompanying DVD) features material culled from Gallagher's 1971 debut and that year's follow-up Deuce, as well as a couple of choice covers, like the guitarist's signature romp through Junior Wells' "Messin' With The Kid."
Rory Gallagher's The Beat Club Sessions
The Beat Club Sessions opens with the lively "Laundromat," a scalding hot tater that jumps around like a lobster in a pot. Gallagher's guitar playing here is positively stunning, flowing effortlessly from raw scraped rhythms to jazz-inflected solos, his gravel-throated vocals almost an afterthought in the face of the song's massive groove. Gallagher's "Sinnerboy" is a horse of a different color. The intro offers up some delicate guitar picking, Gallagher's vocals complimented by shimmering cymbals before he cuts loose with a muscular, bluesy rhythm that leads into a taut solo that cuts like a razor. Contrasting with these scorchers is the long-time Gallagher favorite "I Don't Know Where I'm Going," an acoustic blues number with a little Delta mud in the grooves, Gallagher's subdued guitar strum matched by his warbling harmonica work.
The serpentine slide-guitar that introduces "I Could've Had Religion" opens the door to a smoky, down-n-dirty sin-and-salvation tale that sounds like Robert Johnson with an Irish lilt to his voice. The song stomps and stammers out of your speaks like a hungry beast, a change in fortunes from Johnson's hellhounds as the song's protagonist willingly chooses the dark side. Gallagher's slide-guitar runs wild through the song like a jolt of electricity guaranteed to tickle the fancy of any blues-rock fanboy. "Used To Be" is another long-time live fave, a raucous houserocker a la Cream, Gallagher using the power-trio format to its fullest, the song bristling with electric guitar riffs and crashing rhythms.
The rollicking "In Your Town" shows just the slightest hint of Chicago blues in its deep rhythmic groove, Gallagher almost shouting his vox above the din, an aural assault partially created by his flamethrower fretwork. The song's rapid pace is propelled by drummer Wilgar Campbell's incessant percussive percussion and bassist Gerry McAvoy's heavy basswork. Again, Gallagher's squealing guitarplay tortures the arrangement with a black cat moan and a spine-shaking intensity. Gallagher's "Crest Of A Wave" is one of his signature tunes, a lyrically and musically epic song that offers ringing, circular guitar, strident vocals, a rock solid rhythmic backbone, and a leather-tuff solo that soars like a bird of prey. Gallagher's cover of Junior Wells' "Messin' With The Kid" may be absent the master's powerful harp playing, but the guitarist claimed equal ownership of the song with soulful vocals and an inspired, fleet-fingered bit of guitarplay. McAvoy's bass solo here is a thing of beauty, while Campbell's drum solo adds a bit of bluster to the song's braggadocio, but it's Gallagher's wailing solos that steal the spotlight.
The Reverend's Bottom Line
Rory Gallagher fans have long known of the man's immense talents as a guitarist and a performer, but he remains one of the best-kept secrets in blues-rock music. Gallagher arrived late to the party, perhaps, the British blues scene already moving on to harder-edged rock by the time that the guitarist made his debut. Still, as these early performances from the dawn of his career show, Gallagher had the skills, the heart, and the soul to deliver emotional, moving blues-rock music that connected with the listener. That he never found a larger audience is an oversight that The Beat Club Sessions can help correct. These twelve powerful performances showcase a guitarist at beginning of a substantial career, full of vigor and brimming over with ideas, both musical and lyrical. That Gallagher's long-time fans will grab up The Beat Club Sessions would be no surprise, but the album would also make an intoxicating introduction to the man and his music for the newcomer. (Eagle Records, released September 14, 2010)
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