Growing up without an older sibling’s record collection to rifle through, and having parents, though divorced when I was three, who didn’t have much interest in music and what they did was limited to easy listening and American standards meant I was on my own. Occasionally a friend would suggest a band, but most my learning came by way of the media, particularly radio stations, which I have just discovered has come up short in my education because how I am just learning about the brilliance of Rory Gallagher?
Crest of a Wave, a two-CD, best-of set compiled by his nephew Daniel focuses on Rory’s songwriting. It is my first introduction and long overdue. Rory traffics in the same American blues-based rock music that made stars out of a number of British young men who still get played consistently on classic-rock stations.
Opening with “Follow Me,” the first sound is his guitar. Then the rest of the band joins in, building up and then taking off like a rocket. The lyrics match as he sings of his desire to “break away before it's too late” make his future. “Shinkicker” continues the rebellious theme of leaving the small town for something bigger as he needs “to find a town that's got some action/ Got to find a place stays open late.”
“Loanshark Blues” shows Rory completely comprehends the blues as he begs for a few days to pay a debt. The sentiment is so authentic I was surprised it wasn’t a cover, a testament to his songwriting skills. His guitar playing shines out and the entire song brings to mind Eric Clapton.
“In Your Town” is a great bit of loud, rebellious rock ‘n’ roll about a guy back in town, looking for revenge from the Chief Police and the old D.A. after being in jail “twenty-two years, twenty-three days, twenty-four minutes.” Rory’s delivers some brilliant slide work.
Rory didn’t restrict himself to blues and rock, though. He expands his sound by playing a sitar on “Crest of a Wave” and the opening Eastern-influenced guitar of “A Million Miles Away” is comparable to another rock-radio staple, Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page. “Calling Card” finds the band delving onto jazz with very good piano work by Lou Martin, who also gets some feature time on “They Don’t Make Them Like You Anymore” when Rory shares the bridge.
The second disc closes out the album highlighting Rory on acoustic guitar. The band shuffles along to “Wheels Within Wheels.” Rod de'Ath provides intriguing percussion on the album’s only cover, Lead Belly’s “Out On The Western Plain.” “Barley & Grape Rag” could have been written ages ago, and Rory accompanies himself on harmonica dubbed in later.
Although not in chronological order, the 24 tracks on Crest of a Wave provide a great overview of Rory’s studio output. With his talents on display, it’s easy to see why he was considered a replacement for Mick Taylor in The Rolling Stones, but it’s surprising he hasn’t received more notoriety. At least, I am doing my part by recommending this album.