Artist: Eric Gales
Album: Middle of the Road
Release Date: 02/24/2017
Many of the today’s blues artists are steering away from traditional blues, forging their own paths for a future of the blues by incorporating rap, hip-hop, R&B, jazz and/or rock into their approaches. Eric Gales, now with his 15th album, has always been grounded in rock; call it the psychedelic rock of Jimi Hendrix, adding some funk elements along the way. He’s never been close to a traditional bluesman but has long been considered to be a world class guitarist. Although Gales has a fondness for the classic sounds of the ’60s and ’70s, he’s talking about this effort as a rebirth for him. And, some of those other aforementioned elements are a key part of his sound on this outing. “Unfortunately you have to go through some things to be free. Now, I feel the most free I’ve ever been in life, even more so than when I was a kid.” On the title, he comments “It’s about being fully focused and centered 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.”
This is a rather interesting point of view, given that the title itself, especially in the context of music, does not necessarily carry positive connotations. Hailed as a child prodigy at age 16 upon the release of The Eric Gales Band in 1991, his early success later led to addiction, and a jail term in 2009 for possession of drugs and a weapon. Elaborating, he adds, “While I was in there all the officers and guards were like, “Bro you know this isn’t where you’re supposed to be. When you get out of here, go take the world by the horns and ride it all the way out.” It took a couple of years after, but I’m here.” Thus, he finds freedom in the middle of the road – a place where he is totally free to express himself.
Gales turned to producer, Fabrizio Grossi (Joe Bonamassa, Leslie West, Ice T), with whom he worked with 15 years ago on a project with George Clinton & the P.Funk. The album was recorded in California, Cleveland, MS, and Memphis, TN. Gales’ backing band includes Aaron Haggerty (drums), Dylan Wiggins (B3 Organ), LaDonna Gales (All backing vocals), Maxwell ’Wizard’ Drummey (Mellotron on Repetition) and Eric Gales providing all lead vocals, guitar and bass. On the bass playing, he offers, “I’m a bass player at heart so Fabrizio was like ‘bro you need to be playing the bass’. It was something that was very natural for me to too, I loved it.” Additionally, he brings in some high profile guests, mostly those close to him. They include: Lauryn Hill, Gary Clark Jr, Eugene Gales, Lance Lopez, Raphael Saadiq and Christone ‘Kingfish’ Ingram.
Right away (“Now that’s how you start a record”) the relentless groove of “Good Time” kicks in. Both “Change in Me [The Rebirth]” and “Carry Yourself” are autobiographical, the latter about his wife, LaDonna. The lone cover is his burning interpretation of Freddie King’s “Boogie Man” featuring Gary Clark Jr. “I’m a fan of Freddie King anyway and I like that song. I just enjoyed the original version and I just put a little twist on it, music wise.” Lauryn Hill guests on “Been So Long” and “Help Yourself,” features 16 year-old guitar sensation Christone “Kingsfish”’ Ingram. “I’ve Been Deceived” has a multi-layered meaning to it. “Personally, I was talking about how I was deceived by addiction” he confesses and on “Repetition,” he goes back to the very beginning and where it started by collaborating with his ‘mentor’ and older brother Eugene Gales.
As you listen, you can’t help but be impressed by Gales’ guitar work, especially his full frontal tone. Although his vocals don’t have the gritty soul of others in this genre, they are expressive. Real joy can be found here. It could be a turning point for Gales who will actively tour the album, notably at The Briggs Farm Blues Festival in July.