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As often as possible, The Perfect Chord looks back at albums you may have missed when they dropped, or miss now that they’ve faded from memory. This week’s glimpse into the crates:
The Eric Gales Band – The Eric Gales Band
In 1990, a sixteen-year-old guitarist from Memphis named Eric Gales signed a deal with Elektra Records, putting to rest a bidding war that had been resolved only by Elektra’s willingness to work around the young man’s school schedule. At that point, young Gales had already jammed with the likes of Stevie Ray Vaughan and Carlos Santana, and was being hailed by music critics as the second coming of Jimi Hendrix—a left-handed, Black guitarist fusing the evocative emotional soul of blues to the searing intensity of rock. While the Hendrix comparisons were a bit shortsighted and superficial (while Gales did play single-coil-pickup Fender Stratocasters like Hendrix, his guitar tone was much closer to that of southern blues-rock guitarists Vaughan and Billy Gibbons), they nonetheless adequately reflected the young man’s talent. Enlisting his older brother Eugene on bass and lead vocals and Eugene’s longtime collaborator Hubert Crawford on drums, the Eric Gales band released their eponymous debut album in June of the following year.
Stylistically, The Eric Gales Band is a fairly unadorned affair—stripped-down, rock-with-blues songs with minimal overdubs. The production, handled by Jim Gaines and Paul Ebersold, is tight enough to capture the intensity of Eric’s guitar playing, yet spacious enough to allow Eugene and Crawford their own spots in the mix. While there are moments in which the producers incorporate effects (the album is, after all, a product late-1980s-early-1990s), they’re largely unobtrusive, wisely allowing the band to perform. While the overall result isn’t entirely as stark as, say, a Steve Albini production, the impression is still that of a band playing in a room.
The album begins with “Resurrection,” a bouncy mid-tempo number anchored more by Eugene’s baritone vocals than anything. “No One Else,” on the other hand, follows up by placing Eric’s guitar into the spotlight. The track’s grit strays perilously close to heavy metal (particularly during Eric’s solo a minute-and-a-half in), along a line the band continues to straddle throughout the entirety of the rest of the album. “Sign Of The Storm,” the album’s third track, slows the tempo considerably, rocking back-and-forth along a blues scale, Eugene’s vocals pushed back slightly in the mix as Eric cuts loose, until the chorus, where Eric’s voice joins his brother’s. The song is one of the album’s highlights (and was its highest-charting single, strengthened in part by the band having performed it on The Arsenio Hall Show), intense to the point at which the five-minute instrumental that follows it (“High Anxiety”) comes as a welcome respite.
The album scales back the trickery for the next few songs (two slower, straight-blues numbers, followed by “Nothing To Lose,” a power-rock number) before unleashing “Give And Take,” a burner that starts with Crawford’s drums and proceeds with Eugene’s intense vocals over a neat little Eric riff. The song’s chorus riff is easily Eric’s most clever on the album, and the dueling solos two minutes in (provided by overdubs) are shrewdly panned to opposite sides of the mix, ratcheting up the intensity by, in essence, forcing Eric to out-do himself on what is the album’s other highlight. The band allows themselves one more straight-up rock song—the up-tempo “Changes In Emotion,” before closing the album with their funkiest cut, the hard-hitting “Piece Of My Soul,” on which Eric unleashes a couple more fleet-fingered solos before the album ends.
The Eric Gales Band would prove to be the first of many albums from the brothers Gales, particularly Eric, who would release one more album with Eugene and Crawford (1993’s Picture Of A Thousand Faces), then bring on other brother Manuel to form The Gales Brothers for 1995’s Left Hand Brand before properly setting out on his own, beginning with That’s What I Am in 2001. Eric continues to release and perform music (including Transformation, his most recent album, which dropped in August 2011); having shared the stage with Santana, Robert Randolph (among others) and contributed vocals and guitar for far too many albums to count, he unqualifiably ranks as one of the most respected guitarists in rock.