As Storm Erik threatens to lash the UK, blues master, Eric Gales has whipped up his own tempest on his new album, The Bookends. Meteorological puns aside this album is all about the changes and challenges that are Gales' focus to push his musical boundaries to another level. After being declared a child prodigy, and getting acclaim from other axemen including Santana and Joe Bonamassa, there really is no room for Gales to sit on his laurels and get stuck in a familiar groove. He really is, as the track says, Reaching For A Change.
From the dark, looming chords that open the album, you could almost be forgiven for thinking this was a Black Sabbath record. Gales is no stranger to playing some heavy as hell guitar as those who've heard his earlier works, Crystal Vision and Pictures Of A Thousand Faces can attest. This time, he's combined the weighty nature of his past with the fruity blues chops to create some oozing guitar work that is clearly a different animal. Each track has its own unique feel, although there's a common thread to the work that links it all together. Whatcha Gon' Do has a 90s throb that's enhanced by the elegant bass work of Mono Neon and three-time Grammy nominee B. Slade lends his silky vocals to two tracks. Southpaw Serenade is a midsection come down, with a lazy late-night feel that suddenly wakes you from it's laid back grooves when Doyle Bramhall II jumps aboard. The social commentary on Somebody Lied makes it the most highly charged track here, but it also boasts a chart-friendly chorus that cleverly disguises the dissatisfaction underneath. How do you follow that? With a track that's about unity and surviving, of course, and it doesn't get any more anthemic than having Beth Hart popping up for a characteristically rousing version of With A Little Help From My Friends.
It's not just the collaborations that make this album different from other works. It Just Beez That Way features Gales beatboxing and using slide guitar for the first time alongside the funky backing. Gales' vocals on this record are pushed to the fore too and this album is a career best in terms of expressing both vocally and through his guitar. This new found clarity to his writing and playing owes much to his sobriety which he credits with adding purity to his playing and not clouding his view.
The Bookends also has a more mainstream feel. Given that his original producer David Bianco tragically died before recording commenced, this divergence in sound may more from accident than design. With Matt Wallace, producer of Faith No More and Maroon 5, it's hardly surprising that it feels so contemporary and radio-friendly in places. Although it's a stylistic departure in some ways from his other records, given its title, this album could also be viewed as a coda, heralding new beginnings. Whatever way you approach the listening of Eric Gales' latest album, you can be sure on one thing: plenty of badass, blues-rock guitar.
Groupie rating 4/5