Middle Of The Road is the suitably titled 15th album from renowned guitarist, Eric Gales; not because it's decidedly average, but because it represents the most solid path to be on. “It’s about being fully focused and centred in the middle of the road. If you’re on the wrong side and in the gravel, you’re not too good and if you’re on the median strip that’s not too good either, so being in the middle of the road is the best place to be.” After a decade in the shadows due to addiction and subsequent incarceration, Gales knows all about straying from the centre ground and also about the quest to get back on track, making this album a deeply personal recording.
The album is a spiritual journey, putting faith in God and music from the beginning, starting with the upbeat metallic riff of Good Time. It's a pretty simplistic way to warm up the album, but this Gospel style jam instantly hits you with that soulful feel-good factor. After the evangelical opening, Change In Me (The Rebirth) has Gales declaring “I've been sick for so long, now I've finally started to heal.” It's a powerful track where Gales starts to opens up, not only lyrically but musically. The depth of his playing on the track displays the freedom from the past and the energy to propel the album forward. Help Me Let Go is the culmination of this transformative albums themes of self-acceptance, healing and moving on, is perhaps the most revealing and vulnerable track here.
It's not all about breaking free from the past, Carry Yourself is a funky track about confident, powerful women. The sexuality of this may be subtle, but the way Gales' vocals melt over the smooth rhythms and the guitar pines gently certainly indicate that this chick does indeed have quite an effect.
A few stops later on this journey of truths, Gales drops a biting track in the shape of I've Been Deceived. It's got some venomous lyrics, gritty chords and some more of the superb backing vocals bolstering up the track; it's like a mini-crisis midway through, that threatens to drag our protagonist off from the centre ground. It's Been So Long, is another song that easily shows Gales playing to his strengths and demonstrates his ability to offer diversity in his music, rather than just get stuck in a familiar blues rutt.
During this cathartic album, Gales also plays bass, which really gives him total control over his feel and dynamism. Along the way he is supported by Aaron Haggerty (drums), Dylan Wiggins (B3 Organ), LaDonna Gales (all backing vocals) and some suburb guest slots including his big brother Eugene Gales, Christone ‘Kingfish’ Ingram and Lauren Hill; whilst esteemed producer, Fabrizio Grossi oversees the albums tonality and gives the tracks plenty of room to breath.
There may be some average blues moments here that play a little too safe, but the honesty of expression acts as a counterweight to any familiar refrains. Those that have followed Gales' career since he was heralded as 'the new Jimi Hendrix' at the age of 16, will certainly find this current album uplifting and revealing. For Gales, the soul searching of the album has certainly paid off, “this record is going to take me everywhere that I’ve never been, and everywhere I’ve ever wanted to go,” - just long as it keeps him in the middle of the road.
Groupie Rating: 4/5