If you like the music of blues-rockers such as Joe Bonamassa, Johnny Winter, George Thorogood, Walter Trout, Peter Green, and/or Jeff Healey, and aren’t familiar with the late Irish multi-instrumentalist and singer Rory Gallagher, we can think of no better introduction to his work than this fantastic new 3-CD compilation of blues numbers from throughout his two-dozen-year solo career entitled, simply and accurately, Blues (UMC). And if you’re already a Gallagher fan, the good news is that this one will also be worth adding to your collection, with a whopping 90% of the 36 tracks here being previously unreleased material from various album sessions, radio shows and sessions, and TV concerts.
The set flows seamlessly between solo and band numbers, with the first of the 3 discs devoted to electric blues selections from Gallagher, the second to acoustic blues, and the final to live numbers. While most of what’s here has Gallagher front and center either on his own or leading a three-piece or larger band, Blues also captures Gallagher as a guest player on recordings with such greats as Muddy Waters (a swinging, horns-drenched “I’m Ready” from Muddy’s 1971 London Sessions album), Albert King (an unreleased cover of B.B. King’s “You Upset Me” from Albert’s 1975 Live album, on which both Albert and Rory solo), Jack Bruce (an unreleased 1991 version of “Born Under a Bad Sign” from the German Rockpalast TV show),the Chris Barber Band (a 1989 concert taping of the grooving instrumental “Comin’ Home Baby”), and skiffle king Lonnie Donegan (“Drop Down Baby” from Donegan’s Puttin’ on the Style album).
There’s far too much good stuff here to describe it all in detail, ranging from raw and rowdy numbers such as “Bullfrog Blues” from a 1972 Cleveland radio session and a shuffling 1982 three-piece-band Glasgow concert version of “When My Baby She Left Me” to such slow, quiet blues as an electric, swaying “Should’ve Learnt My Lesson” (one of two versions of the song, the other a shorter unplugged take, included here that were recorded during Rory’s 1971 Deuce album sessions) and acoustic take on Muddy Waters’ “Blow Wind Blow” from an early 1970s radio session. You’ll also hear two versions of a few other songs, with first a shuffling electric and then a rocking live take on Freddie King’s “Tore Down” from a 1973 album session and 1977 concert, respectively, and similar electric and live performances of Lightnin’ Slim’s “Nothin’ But the Devil” from a 1975 studio session and 1982 concert.
Among the other more recognizable blues classics here are an opening, rocking “Don’t Start Me to Talkin’ (Sonny Boy Williamson), a 1992 solo acoustic German radio session recording of Waters’ “Can’t Be Satisfied” that alternates between grungy slide playing and crisp picking along with occasional falsetto vocals, the Delta country blues standard “Walkin’ Blues”, and a 1977 live take on Junior Wells’ “Messin’ With The Kid”, with Gallagher also hitting upon perhaps less familiar numbers from the likes of, among others, Blind Boy Fuller (a jaunty acoustic “Pistol Slapper Blues” from a 1976 Irish TV program), John Lee Hooker (“Want Ad Blues”), Willie Dixon (a smoldering concert version of “What In The World”), and Bo Carter (a 1976 BBC recording of “All Around Man”).
One of Gallagher’s final tapings, “Leaving Town Blues” was recorded for a Peter Green tribute album and features Gallagher on mandolin, and could easily be mistaken for something off Bonamassa’s An Acoustic Evening at the Vienna Opera House DVD/CD if not for Gallagher’s huskier vocals. Acoustic numbers such as “Who’s That Coming”, a harmonica- and piano-accented “Bankers Blues” (outtakes from Gallagher’s Tattoo and Blueprint album sessions, respectively), and a Thorogood-like “Loanshark Blues” from German TV — two played on a National resonator guitar — help demonstrate a whole other side to Gallagher’s playing, but, for us, some of the biggest treats here are slow blues tracks like an unreleased concert version of Willie Hammond’s “Garbage Man Blues” and radio sessions of “I Could’ve Had Religion” and a drifting “A Million Miles Away” that alone may be worth the price of the set.
Taken together, the music here represents an important part of Gallagher’s work, with the musician (who died in 1995 at the age of 47 and would have now been in the 50th year of his career) once having observed: “It’s a hoary old cliché, but I still live and breathe the blues. I’m still fascinated with it and with the people who make it… It’s like the true creed. When all else fails in other aspects of life, in business or whatever, I can play a blues record,” something to which readers of this blog can surely relate.
Regardless of whether you’re a new or longtime listener to his music, Gallagher’s Blues is a record that any fan of the genre is going to want to pick up and play!