Middle Of The Road is a return for Eric Gales to the music that established him as a master from the time he was 16 and cutting his first record. It’s also a new philosophy for him helping to overcome some if the downs in his personal life over the years.
The new 11-song disc, available from Provogue is mostly originals – some co-written with various partners, and only one cover, the Leon Russell – Charles Blackwell penned Boogie Man. Musicians include Gales on all lead vocals, guitars, and bass guitar; Aaron Haggerty on drums; Dylan Wiggins on B3 Organ; and wife LaDonna Gales provides all of the backing vocals and accessories. Maxwell (Wizard) Drummey plays the Mellotron on Repetition.
Special guests Gary Clark, Jr., Christone “Kingfish” Ingram, and brother Eugene Gales all contribute to one song apiece.
The album opens with a wink and a smile before sliding into the gospel fueled call and response of Good Time. Immediately I am drawn to the energy of the song as well as LaDonna Gales’ backing vocals. She’s got a voice that is perfect for soul gospel and I can’t wait to hear what the rest of the album is going to bring.
The very autobiographical Change In Me (The Rebirth) follows. I alluded to the troubles that Gales faced, but not the specifics. He did time for drug and weapon possession and used that time to develop his spiritual side. For many, that only lasts until they walk away from the prison yard, but it seems to have taken a hold of Gales and he’s turned his life around. This is a powerful song.
Gales slows things down and adds some funk to Carry Yourself. He doesn’t abandon the blues (listen to the lyrics), but he expands his musical approach with this song. He handles R&B, funk, and soul throughout the album, but the base is always the blues.
The only cover on the album, Boogie Man features Gary Clark Jr. I know the song has been covered by a few artists, but it still seems fresh and alive in Gales’ hands. It’s a fun song with just a hint of mystery behind to voices. Yeah, I’ll be playing this on at some point in the next few weeks…
Another autobiographical number is Been So Long. It’s the story of what he’s done and the struggles he’s faced because of those things. More than that is the fact that he is owning those things and being accountable for them. It’s a powerful number and while he wrote it about what he’s faced, it’s empowering for so many who also have those struggles and it offers hope. And isn’t that what the blues is all about? Overcoming obstacles and finding hope. The lilting reggae rhythm is different, but it works with this song.
The next song is Help Yourself, and it features Christopher “Kingfish” Ingram. It’s a solid blues number that draws from the Delta before adding a little blistering guitar. It’s an examination of what each of us have to do in order to keep our lives on track. Or stay in the middle of the road…
There is screaming pain in the song, I’ve Been Deceived. This is Gales at his most vulnerable. He is dealing with some fairly heavy issues with this song and by including them on this album, he’s not hiding any of it from his audience. Radio producers and parents playing this one with small kids in the car, there is one instance of one of the famous “Seven Words You Can’t Say On Television” being sung. It’s not gratuitous, but it may give you pause. You decide. I think it’s an amazing, earthy, and visceral number.
The next song, Repetition, features brother Eugene Gales joining in the fun. It also features Drummey on the Mellotron. It’s got some funk in it and more than a little darkness behind the music. It’s an interesting look at the cycles and spirals that we often face in life. It’s great to hear the two Gales Brothers tear it up. I can only hope we hear it more often…
Gales follows it up with a beautiful number, Help Me Let Go. It’s an amazing spiritual journey with some very lovely lyrics. Wiggins’ B3 adds to the church feel to this song. They say the spirit is all around us, this is a case of Gales acknowledging it and passing it along.
Some jazzy scatting opens the next track, I Don’t Know. Could be more like beatboxing, but whatever label you want to hang on it, it jump starts the song and Gales gets funky one more time. He’s exploring several different avenues to see where the music takes him, but if you think he’s left the blues behind, listen for his guitar break and tell me that…
Gales closes the album with the instrumental, Swamp. It’s a high energy attack that lets his band show off one last time, with drummer Haggerty really going to town on his break. Gales does some fine six-string pyrotechnics when it’s his turn and the jam session extends the fun.
Eric Gales is a superstar in the field of blues that got sidetracked along the way. Since that time, he has returned with an amazing album, this one, Middle Of The Road, and it is racking up lots of airplay and has been a fixture on the Blues And Roots Chart for some time.
He’s been out on the road promoting the album steadily, and will continue to do so, so if you play your cards right, you just might be in a place where he is heading. I suggest you point your browser to http://www.ericgalesband.com/ in order to see where he’s headed next. If you get that chance to see him, you’re in for a great performance.