Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Rory Gallagher - Rory Gallagher

Rory Gallagher

Released 1971 on Polydor
Reviewed by Fitter Stoke, 16/08/2002ce

It's more than often been said that the essence of Rory Gallagher was on the concert stage, and his four officially released live albums (as well as the excellent 'Irish Tour '74' film) offer ample evidence of his passion, energy and jaw-dropping talent. As anyone who ever saw him live will testify, a Rory concert was always a night to savour, and it is on the concert circuit that he has been most greatly missed. However, his substantial studio output has always tended to be underrated in my humble opinion. And he never made a more satisfying album overall than this eponymous post-Taste debut.

There is so much contrast and simple pleasure present in the grooves of this record that it's an evening's entertainment in itself. On the cover, in shadowed monochrome, Rory smiles, modestly, eyes closed. This self-depreciating feel infuses the album's slower, quieter, soul-searching moments: heartfelt, humble, human. But when Rory rocks, man you know about it. 'Laundromat' explodes the album into being with a great big circular riff and jazzy chords in the verses that are never played the same way twice. Ably supported by the faithful Gerry McAvoy on bass and Wilgar Campbell on drums, Rory belts out his tale of loneliness in the rowdiest way possible. His central solo veers gloriously into rockabilly and out again, before returning to that ever-varying riff. But the two songs that follow could not be more different to this opening blast. 'Just The Smile' is a quiet highlight of the album: an acoustic love song with an up-and-down melody of the simplest, subtlest beauty, enriched by tasteful percussive backing and, as ever, an nigh-on perfect solo in the middle. 'I Fall Apart' sees Rory return to his battered Stratocaster, but still in quieter mode. Subdued and despondent, it has big crescendi at the end of each verse that paint in sound the desolation of the simple but moving lyrics. And here, as throughout the record, the limitations of Gallagher's vocal range, like those of Neil Young, just endear him to you more. A massive, as-yet-untouched riff with cranked-up lead work carries the song to an devastating close.

'Wave Myself Goodbye' is a Ray Charles inspired chunk of laid back rhythm and blues which, like its sister track 'I'm Not Surprised', features the jaunty piano accompaniment of then Atomic Rooster stalwart (and future Dexys sideman) Vincent Crane. 'Hands Up' rocks as hard as 'Laundromat', with the album's best solo over its blinding central riff. And then there's the two long melancholic masterpieces that bring true greatness to the record's second side. 'For The Last Time' is the bitter aftermath of 'I Fall Apart', with Rory now turning the tables on his manipulative lover. "Don't cry when I'm gone" he intones, before launching into a long, long solo that seems to speak even more eloquently the quiet anger and indignation of its protagonist. And like only a select few great musicians, Gallagher shadows an immense technique with tons of genuine soul. I can think of few axeman who can play as long and still hold my interest. 'Can't Believe It's True' is in a similar vein, slightly more uptempo, but back in lovesick mode. The contrast between the major keyed verse and the resigned, minor keyed "clock on the wall, why do you bother to chime at all" chorus creates a underlying tension that sustains the song for all of its seven minutes. And Gallagher fills out the sound with quietly-blown saxophone, a throwback to his showband and Taste days that would soon be cast aside - a shame, for as he proves in the solo that leads to the song's fade, he was no slouch on reeds either. Superlative stuff.

Which leaves only 'It's You', a divine little country ditty with irresistable slide and mandolin playing, the single that never was - and the old Taste live favourite 'Sinner Boy' with its totally misleading introspective intro preceding a loud, plodding and pounding boogie stomp with severe bottleneck abuse - in wild stereo - by our hero.

Born to play live, no-one, but no-one, gave as much out-and-out satisfaction as Rory Gallagher in concert. It didn't matter whether or not his style of music was your particular bag; the natural warmth of the man and the sheer joy of creation won you over. The live albums give a good taste (no pun intended) of the atmosphere of his stage shows, but there is also so much of merit in his studio legacy that the recent reappearance of all of his albums on CD is cause for celebration. Get 'em all I say, but start at the start with the box of love, laughter, tears and anger that is 'Rory Gallagher'. It's good honest rock and roll, warts and all, with a heart of gold and a barrowload of soul.

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