Rory Gallagher. The name will evoke a quizzical “who?” from many classic rock fans. But for the fortunate few, immediate joy is in order.
Gallagher was an Irish blues guitarist who for decades delighted the faithful. In his hands, his battered Fender Stratocaster became the voice of the gods, a music machine transcending itself as Gallagher unleashed masterful solos that simultaneously soothed and seared your soul. Gallagher could melt your face with rapid-fire fury or break your heart with plaintive, unadorned tones. His playing expressed all possible states of the heart with power and scope unapproachable via mere words. Moby once made the observation that music is God’s language. Rory Gallagher was the six-string psalmist proving him right.
Gallagher passed away in 1995 from complications following a liver transplant, necessitated by years of excessive drinking. Before he self-destructed, he recorded eleven studio solo albums. The first one, an eponymously-titled effort recorded after the dissolution of his band Taste, was released in 1971. In honor of its fiftieth anniversary, a deluxe re-release has just hit the market. It’s worth every penny.
The set includes a remixed version of the album itself. The differences between it and the original are slight; perhaps a bit more clarity in the new one, but nothing that will raise the hackles of Gallagher aficionados understandably averse to anything attempting to modify the recordings they have loved for decades. The set also includes a DVD of Gallagher’s first solo performance on television, recordings from two different BBC radio appearances in 1971, and a well-written short book detailing Gallagher’s life and career with emphasis, as to be expected, on the first record. Abbreviated sets on CD and vinyl are also available.
But what of the music itself? The album showcases Gallagher’s transition from Taste’s somewhat more experimental, albeit still blues-based, style to the more linear blues of Gallagher’s subsequent work. Not that the album, nor any of Gallagher’s work, was the same ol’ same ol’ twelve-bar blues lacking in imagination or scope. Gallagher, in addition to being an utter guitar master, was an accomplished songwriter and singer unafraid to stretch out or keep it straightforward as the song dictated. Playful uptempo numbers such as “Laundromat” sit gracefully alongside moodier tunes such as “I Fall Apart” and sparse acoustic outreaches like “Just The Smile.”
These are but a sample of the riches within this album. What’s more, as terrific as this album is, it is not Gallagher’s best work. There were even better releases to come, both studio and live, where Gallagher shone like no other. One listen to Irish Tour ’74 and you know you are in the presence of true greatness.
In our present world where madness reigns supreme, getting back to the fundamentals is a process one would be wise to engage. This includes getting in touch with heart and soul. Rory Gallagher was a guitar-playing mainline straight to both. If you know, you know. If you don’t, enrich your life right now. You will not regret it.