June 2003 marks the 8th Anniversary of the tragically early death of Rory Gallagher. It also sees the 1st International Rory Gallagher tribute festival in his hometown, Ballyshannon. Several of the people appearing there also feature on "Wheels Within Wheels," the latest of Gallagher's albums compiled by his brother and manager, Donal, from unreleased spanning about 20 years. "Wheels Within Wheels" is the folk/blues album Rory Gallagher never got around to recording, and shows how wide ranging his
tastes and influences were.
The album opens with Gallagher in mellow, Claptonesque mood, with the title
track. The first of six originals, it is one of the few tracks that includes bass and drums, bolstered by Lou Martin on piano. More commonly Gallagher appears with one or two other musicians, such as on the excellent "Flight To Paradise," recorded with legendary flamenco guitarist, Juan Martin. The tune positively soars as the title suggests, and the bird theme continues with a lively, spirited version of Tony Joe White's "As The Crow
Flies." Gallagher beautifully demonstrates the power and passion he could generate on his own with an acoustic guitar and harp.
The driving beat of "Lonesome Highway" prefaces a more folk oriented sequence of tracks. Although "Bratacha Dubha" sounds like a traditional folk tune, helped by the presence of Martin Carthy, Chris Newman and harpist Maire Ni Chathasaigh, it is a Gallagher original. "She Moved Thro' The Fair" really is a traditional song, however, although it appears here as an instrumental recorded with another legend, Bert Jansch.
The album includes a trio of live tracks from 1994's Montreux Jazz Festival. Gallagher was all set to jam, potentially with Bob Dylan, when Bela Fleck, replete with banjo stepped out from the wings. The two quickly found their feet with a brief instrumental introduction to "Amazing Grace" before bursting into a footstomping version of "Walkin' Blues" with Mark Feltham on harp. Then, to cap it all off they turned their hand to bluegrass with Bill Monroe's "Blue Moon of Kentucky."
The album draws to a conclusion with a nice instrumental reprise, "Lonesome
Highway Refraining" which follows the outstanding rendition of "Deep Elm Blues." The latter was recorded live in Ghent with European folk stalwart Roland Van Campenhout, and has a marvellous raw earthy feel to it.
"Wheels Within Wheels" is a very fine album that is receiving widespread critical acclaim. It should appeal to a wide range of people: those who like folk and/or blues, as well as Gallagher fans. Many might be surprised to hear a whole album of this Gallagher's quieter side. That it works so well is down to some careful programming by Gallagher's brother, Donal, who contributes an informative short note on the source of each of the tracks. Highly Recommended.
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