Saturday, October 18, 2014
Eric Gales - Good For Sumthin' - Gonna Be Hard To Beat This One
Eric Gales was right - he's been very excited about his new album as he wrote and recorded it, and now I know exactly why. I know he's been working non-stop for the last several years, and he's been getting closer and closer to unearthing something that reveals exactly who and what he is, not just as an artist, but also as a man. Good For Sumthin'? Yeah, he's good for sumthin' - he's made one of the most musical, personal, and moving albums that I've heard in a long time. An album that evokes the memory of James Marshall Hendrix in more ways than one. More on this very unfair, but not inaccurate comparison, later.
The stars line up just right - they've been moving for the last few years to get where they're going. Gales got his personal life more solidly squared away, made a couple of great albums with the power trio Pinnick Gales Pridgen, released a very compelling album with his homegrown trio, and maybe in the final move to make alignment he was gifted in having Raphael Saadiq produce his new solo album, and what an album it is.
Something's going on here, Mr. Jones, and it's not what we're being told. People are writing obituaries for rock, making out like somethings died, and all for their own unstated, greedy reasons - sure the business has changed tremendously, and things have been brutally hard, but in spite of the hardships, the music is getting stronger, there's a tremendous amount of cool projects springing up, and there is more light at the end of the tunnel that there has been in ages.
Good For Sumthin' is an album of almost alarmingly raw emotions, thoughts, and feelings. You can hear it in Eric Gales' lyrics, his voice, and in every note that comes out of his hands and guitar. This is a musical autobiography writ large, and it will be some time before I know whether it's more important for what he says, or how he says it. I've been calling Gales one of the world's very finest guitar players for a few years now, but while he's always been a fine singer and lyricist, he's now absolutely transcended where he's been, and he's setting the bar very high for the rest of the world. This is a great piece of work. Everything has come together, everything has aligned and we the listeners are the beneficiaries.
Come A Long Way is a stew of fiery funk, riveting rock, and much in the way of melody and stortelling. It's a proclamation that sets the stage - a mission statement set to great guitars and solid rhythms. Gales sings and speaks his story as he tells of twenty years in the business, and his arrival at the apex of his life to this point. His soloing is so strong and confident that you could almost be excused for not noticing the brilliance of the playing, but you won't - it keeps growing and growing through the track, and all the way to the end.
Almost classical composition and very interestingly harmonizes guitars ring in the autobiographical 1019, and it abruptly changes into a hard to pin down by genre tale of the path that's led Eric to this moment. You can clearly hear the sophistication of Saadiq's influence - the song morphs its way through style after style, without ever sounding contrived or clumsy - no, this is simply the sound of pure musical collaboration. The voice is perfectly matched to the guitars, and you can hear all the work that Gales is describing as he tells the story of his life. This is fiercely personal, but he's letting us all into his parlor, and letting us hear what he's become, and when those harmonized lines come back around, we feel like we're family.
Going Back To Memphis is a blues that rocks in a satisfyingly jazzy manner, and Gales is taking us along on his trip, and there's some very cool and sophisticated side steps that remind us that Eric listened to Steely Dan as much as he did Stax. His musicality is huge, and he manages to keep it very cozy. The flights of wicked technique never lose sight of the paying customer, and opposed to making the listener work, Gales makes it sound like a well dressed Sunday picnic. This is Eric Gales' soul that he's sharing. "Life's really grand, y'all."
Raphael Saadiq is good. He's real, real good. You can hear him all over this record, but not in the way you'd think - his brilliance as a producer is that he allows Eric Gales to be the best version of himself we've yet been witness to, and he's been damned good for a long, long time, just never quite this focused. Good For Sumthin' combines a lot of elements and again Gales is telling his story very directly - he's grateful, he's joyous, and he's playing and singing his ass off - he's good for sumthin', all right. This is healing medicine and Drs. Gales and Saadiq have written our prescription.
Remember that Hendrix thing I said earlier? Well, if you want to hear what I'm talking about go straight to Six Deep. This is as close in spirit to where Jimi stood when he was fronting the Band Of Gypsys as I've ever heard. It's deep blues via the rainbow bridge, and the electric church is back in session. The haunting chords and the blistering leads dance around each other like ghosts, and the drums on this track are just sublime as they push and pull Gales along. The guitar playing? Well, this is why I've been calling Eric one of the world's best for the last few years. Holy hell, y'all.
Things get very pretty with You Give Me Life, and I've had the privilege of standing beside Mr. Gales and his wife together, so I really get this one. Everything about this track sounds like true and beautiful love. The bass underpins things so well, and grounds this tune as it gently reaches for the stratosphere. Guitar, voice, words - they're all straight from the soul, and we should listen very closely to what can happen when you let go, and let the muse take you where she will.
Heaven's Gate gets more playful and rocking, and it's a street story about the seedier, darker side of things, part and parcel of the whole package. You don't make it to the light without getting through the dark of the night, and Gales has come through to the other side, and this is his cautionary tale. He's a teller of truths and morals. He gives credit where credit's due, and then he turns it all into a dance party of guitars, cymbals, and fatback bass.
Silky smooth pop had to make an appearance, right? Tonight (I'm Leaving) reminds me of everything I loved about Don Was' brilliant Was (Not Was), a band that combined soul singing, rhythmic perfection, great musicianship, and a socially aware commentary. This has one of the most gorgeous choruses you're going to hear this year or any other, and this one might just be the hit. Are there still hit singles? This is a hit single. How about that Ernie Isley inflected solo? Of course, Eric is nobody's guitar player besides his own, and this record should make that very clear. As he goes of over the final choruses, the album truly climaxes.
The acoustic guitar finally gets broken out on Show Me How, and I can't but think of Bill Withers' ability to get a message across with just a voice and a guitar. Gales is singing in such a straight forward, honest fashion that you can almost miss what a fine, fine vocalist he has become. Great layered harmonies and a military snare keep things interesting, and when Eric goes into his silken solo, he seals the deal.
A cover tune? I wouldn't have guessed, and didn't see it coming, but I'm glad he had the balls to get next to The Rolling Stones classic, Miss You. A bit slower, a bit more soulful, and maybe even a bit funkier than the original, and we're's speaking about one of the slowest, soulful, funkiest trips Jagger and company ever took. Was this Saadiq's idea? Eric's? Whoever pulled the trigger on this gets a huge nod of the hat, and my eternal respect. When he gets to the bridge, you're going to audibly gasp and get goosebumps, just like I just did.
Zakk Wylde! What are you doing here? He's onboard for Steep Climb, and he's brought his best game. It's not the pinched squalling harmonics, it's the fierce soulful southern bends, and the blinding speed, and sweet side of the wild man from Oz, and it fits like a glove. To take it to the top of the mountain takes some time, and it's gonna be a steep climb, but our man E is up for the job. The soloing on this number takes no prisoners.
To ride it off into the sunset, Eric is joined by Eric. Johnson that is, and if this matching seems incongruous, belief me, it's not. These two are listening to one another and it's actually a match made in guitar heaven.
So, what have we learned? First, what we probably already knew - Eric Gales is one of the most talented musicians stomping the tundra, and he's learned that with a little faith, a lot of love, and a few right friends you can accomplish anything - and what he has accomplished here, along with his sidekick producer Rapheal Saadiq, and his rhythm section (who is that rhythm section?) is an album that's going to blow a whole lot of minds, and may just end up being my favorite album of not just this year, but maybe the last few.
Rock Ain't Near Dead, and Eric Gales is here to tell you the news.