RORY GALLAGHER – ” The Later Albums “

Posted: February 10, 2022 in MUSIC
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By the end of 1976, Rory Gallagher had harnessed a prodigious talent and admirable work ethic to reap sizeable rewards. With six critically-acclaimed studio albums and two landmark live LPs under his belt, the much-admired Irish troubadour had amassed a formidable solo catalogue, while his fearsome live reputation ensured his global fanbase had continued to expand.

In 1977, however, the wider music scene made an unexpected handbrake turn, thanks to the arrival of punk and bands like The RamonesSex Pistols, and The Clash: outfits whose collective mission (at least initially) was to take a flamethrower to established rock acts who they believed displayed an unnecessary excess of virtuosity.

Though his raw passion and street-level integrity ensured he was spared the new breed’s rod, punk nonetheless had a bearing on Rory Gallagher’s immediate future. After pioneering (and headlining) Ireland’s first-ever open-air rock concert, Macroom Mountain Dew Festival, in June ’77, Gallagher led his band through a six-month world tour, after which he attended Sex Pistols’ final US show, at San Francisco’s Winterland Ballroom, in January 1978.

At the time the Pistols hit town, Gallagher and company had just finished an album’s worth of sessions in California with producer Elliot Mazer (The BandNeil Young, Janis Joplin), but after his admiration for the Pistols’ raw, nihilistic energy compounded his frustration with the Mazer-helmed sessions’ complicated mixing process, Rory felt some radical changes were required.

Scrapping the sessions, Gallagher reconfigured his band’s line-up, retaining bassist Gerry McAvoy but dispensing with keyboardist Lou Martin and replacing drummer Rod de’Ath with ex-Sensational Alex Harvey Band skinsman Ted McKenna. Trimmed down to their fighting weight, this new power trio relocated to Cologne to record October 1978’s “Photo-Finish“.

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While the resulting album was largely devoid of discernible blues influences, it was still stuffed with highlights such as the bruising rockers “Shadow Play” and “The Last Of The Independents,” and the fierce, rockabilly-flavoured “Cruise On Out.”

Reverting back to a trio, Gallagher toughens up his sound and blazes through some robust blues rockers like “Last of the Independents,” “Shadow Play,” and “Brute Force & Ignorance” (one of his best hard rock riffs) with nervy energy. Gallagher’s swampy side emerges on “Cloak & Dagger,” another song that explores his fascination with B-movie gumshoes, a common theme for the Irish blues-rocker. His guitar work is typically excellent throughout, especially on “Overnight Bag,” as he overdubs himself on acoustic. Still, the album has a samey feel due to some of the song writing not being quite up to snuff, and a few tracks, like the moody, slow-burning “Fuel to the Fire,” stretched well past its breaking point to over six minutes. Of the two additional tunes, “Early Warning” is a typically rugged chunky rocker, and “Juke Box Annie” explores the guitarist’s jaunty, slightly funky country style. There is a remarkable clarity and fullness to the bass, along with a definition that exposes heretofore unheard instruments like the mandolin on “Brute Force…” and handclaps on “Cruise on Out,” both previously buried in the mix.

Photo-Finish” also included newly recorded takes of songs from the San Francisco sessions, among them “Overnight Bag” and “Mississippi Sheiks,” but in 2011 devotees finally got to hear the Elliot Mazer sessions in full, when Eagle Rock released the excellent “Notes From San Francisco“. The long-shelved session included radically different slants on “Photo-Finish” staples, such as a potent, electric violin-assisted take of “Mississippi Sheiks” and a sax-enhanced “Brute Force And Ignorance.” The long-awaited posthumous release also delighted fans with the inclusion of a stonking December ’79 live set from San Francisco’s Old Waldorf.

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Gallagher spent much of 1979 enhancing his reputation on the road in the US, and his next album, August 1979’s “Top Priority“, again found him weighing in with a hook-heavy set of high-quality anthemic rock’n’roll. Ballads and acoustic forays were again noticeably absent, yet “Top Priority” included numerous Gallagher essentials courtesy of the exuberant “Just Hit Town,” the Southern rock-styled “Bad Penny” and the moody, magnificent “Philby.”

Indulging his love for spy stories and film noir, Gallagher based the latter song upon the real-life story of Kim Philby, the notorious Cold War-era British double agent for the Soviet Union, and he even employed Pete Townshend’s coral electric sitar to lend a tinge of Eastern Bloc-flavoured mystique to one of his most evocative tracks.

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Following the release of “Top Priority”, Rory and his loyal troops spent another year circumnavigating the planet, with August 1980’s live album, “Stage Struck”, documenting the Gallagher/McAvoy/McKenna line-up in all its combustible glory.

Following the excellent reportire of live albums “Live In Europe” and the tumultuous “Irish Tour ’74″, this third live missive more than held its own, with the road-tightened trio dispatching adrenalized versions of recent favourites “Shadow Play,” “Follow Me,” and the biker anthem “Shinkicker” with venomous aplomb, and Rory showing off his slide guitar mastery on “The Last Of The Independents” and the robust contemporary blues, “Keychain.”

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Few rock acts of the day could compete with Rory Gallagher, Gerry McAvoy, and Ted McKenna at full throttle, but after “Stage Struck”, Gallagher again reconfigured his band, replacing McKenna with Brendan O’Neill and drafting in former Brinsley Schwartz keyboardist Bob Andrews. The new line-up cut their teeth with May 1982’s “Jinx“, for which Rory also brought in saxophonist Dick Parry, renowned for his contributions to Pink Floyd’s legendary “The Dark Side Of The Moon“.

Guitarist Gallagher’s third officially released live album (during his lifetime) captures him on a grinding world tour in 1979 and 1980, pumping out blues-rockers with requisite aggression, yet none of the charm and subtlety that made his previous concert recordings so essential. While the live shows might have gone down well on-stage, when they’re transferred to album, some of the excitement is lost, and instead of Gallagher’s classy, snappy, eclectic mix of blues, folk, and rock, “Stage Struck” sounds like plodding, second-rate Bad Company. All the songs push the five-minute mark, but none have the sizzle and compactness of Gallagher’s best work. He sounds like he’s going though the motions for the first time in his career, making this a below par, if not quite valueless document.

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Accordingly, “Jinx” was broader in scope, with muscular rockers such as “Big Guns” and “Bourbon” interspersed with subtler material such as the glorious, bluesy ballad “Easy Come, Easy Go” and a potent, Delta-style cover of Louisiana Red’s “Ride On Red, Ride On” wherein Gallagher dug deep to produce one of his most breath taking electric slide solos.

Rory Gallagher sounds inspired throughout “Jinx”, gamely leading new drummer Brendan O’Neill and keyboardist Bob Andrews through the blues-rock paces, even though the guitarist’s personal fortunes were on a downslide from which they would never recover. “Big Guns” and “Bourbon,” the album’s opening selections find Rory in full fiery form, tossing out muscular guitar lines and fiery solos with descriptive lyrics catering to his infatuation with American gangsters. The album also features two of his best, and least known, songs in the spooky, paranoid title track, complete with simmering sax section, boiling tom-tom drums as well as his own stealthy harmonica, and “Easy Come Easy Go,” a beautiful, bluesy ballad where Rory double tracks his acoustic and electric guitars. Gallagher’s tough vocals take on a new emotional depth not previously heard, and are particularly poignant throughout. Diving into the blues, Lightnin’ Slims’ “Nothin’ but the Devil,” one of the two songs added for this reissue, is an acoustic solo showpiece revealing Gallagher’s delta roots and substantial slide abilities. Louisiana Red’s “Ride On Red, Ride On” is a crackling double-time burner with Rory charging through with an appropriately whisky-soaked approach and a shimmering electric slide solo.

Though a distinguished release, “Jinx” proved to be Rory Gallagher’s Chrysalis swansong. He continued to tour relentlessly, becoming one of the first Western rock artists to perform Eastern Bloc dates in 1985, but five years elapsed before “Defender” appeared on his own label, Capo, through Demon Records.

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Topping the UK independent chart, “Defender” was another choice release, with Gallagher relaying a tale of dire financial straits on the Sun Studios-style rockabilly of “Loanshark Blues”; revisiting his love of hard-boiled detective fiction on the smouldering “Continental Op”; and throwing in a convincingly gritty take of Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Don’t Start Me Talking.”

“Defender” is another quality blues-rock offering. Although Gallagher is in fine tough form here and it was his debut release for his own indie label, there is little difference between this and some of his less stellar ’70s albums like “Top Priority” and “Photo-Finish“. The pounding, guitar-heavy opener “Kickback City” sounds more like hairy rockers Bad Company than anything approaching the deep Chicago and country blues Gallagher dearly loved.

The quality picks up substantially as the volume subsides on “Loanshark Blues,” but by-the-books crunch-rockers like “Failsafe Day” and the unfortunately titled “Road to Hell” don’t bode well for Gallagher moving out from an increasingly formulaic pigeonhole. There are a few corkers here like “Continental Op,” a blazing riff that stands with Gallagher’s best work and revisits his familiar cloak-and-dagger theme. The swampy, less abrasive “I Ain’t No Saint” also pushes the quality up a few notches, as does his gritty version of Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Don’t Start Me to Talking,” the bluesiest song on the disc and one of the few times he pulls out his greasy slide. “Seven Days” is the lone acoustic track and it’s a good one, with piano and harp accompaniment and Gallagher singing like he means it as he takes the part of a criminal fleeing from the electric chair.

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Though a well-heeled return to the fray, “Defender” was arguably usurped by May 1990’s “Fresh Evidence”, which – though nobody realized it at the time – would be the last album Rory Gallagher released during his lifetime. It was also one of his best, with an eclectic spread of material ranging from the proud, defiant pugilist’s tale, “Kid Gloves,” to the Clifton Chenier-inspired “King Of Zydeco” and the redemptive “Heaven’s Gate,” which took its cue from Robert Johnson’s chilling blues standard “Hellhound On My Trail.”

Fresh Evidence” strongly suggested a whole new phase in Rory Gallagher’s career was set to unfold, but while he followed it up with an extensive world tour in 1991, and further significant shows, including a legendary soiree at the inaugural Cork Jazz Festival in 1993, ill health gradually slowed him down. In 1995, Rory Gallagher passed away from complications following a liver transplant, aged just 47.

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His estimable music, however, continues to defy the ravages of time, and his dextrous, all-acoustic posthumous set, “Wheels Within Wheels”, adds a dignified final coda to one of the most inspirational bodies of work laid down in the name of rock’n’roll.

Although best known for his barnstorming blues-rock, Irish guitarist Rory Gallagher had a softer side, too. All of his studio albums contain at least one acoustic folk-blues track, and Gallagher included an unplugged set in the majority of his live shows way before that was fashionable. Almost eight years after his death, Rory’s brother Donal compiled a 14-track collection of previously unreleased work dedicated to Gallagher’s folkier approach. It’s the second such posthumous album (the terrific live and very electric “BBC Sessions” came out in 1999), and focuses on an important if lesser recognized aspect of the guitarist’s career.

It’s also an eclectic set that shifts from melodic ballads (“Wheels Within Wheels”) to instrumental modified flamenco “Flight to Paradise” with classical guitarist Juan Martin and solo Delta blues (a studio take of Tony Joe White’s “As the Crow Flies,” the live version of which was a highlight of “Irish Tour”. And that’s just the first three songs. Unreleased gems such as “Lonesome Highway” sound like classic Gallagher (this even features a plugged-in solo), but the disc is most successful when it unearths rare collaborations with Martin Carthy, Bert Jansch, and Scottish skiffle legend Lonnie Donegan. The latter is caught live on a rousing version of “Goin’ to My Hometown,” one of this album’s many highlights. The heavily bootlegged “The Cuckoo,” also finds official release in a stirring version assisted by Roland Van Campenhout on second guitar. Three live tunes with stripped-down accompaniment from Béla Fleck on banjo and harmonica master Mark Feltham find Gallagher running through a seemingly improvised medley of “Amazing Grace,” Robert Johnson’s “Walking Blues,” and Bill Monroe’s “Blue Moon of Kentucky,” showing just how diverse Gallagher’s tastes were.

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