Brothers in Arms
Eric Gales and Joe Bonamassa were both described as ‘blues guitar prodigies’, and consequently Gales has talked of them sharing a ‘brotherhood.’ Being identified as a prodigy however can easily become a burden, and while Gales’ own problems with drug abuse and the law have been more high profile, neither has Bonamassa’s journey been all roses.
When the duo reconnected a few years ago, Bonamassa agreed to produce Gales’ latest album Crown (28 January 2022/ Mascot Label Group), in a bid to showcase his talents and put him back where he belongs. As if to wryly emphasise this point one of the accompanying song-videos is called I Want My Crown, which amusingly features the pair ‘taking up arms’ in a mock guitar duel in a boxing ring – featuring Bonamassa on his Strat and Gales on his Magneto Sonnet - as Gales presumably strives to reclaim his place as the ‘blues heavyweight champion of the world’.
And, it has to be said, Crown’s 16 tracks go a long way to achieving that. In fact while its base is blues, it also draws heavily on rock, gospel, soul and funk, and features Gales’ primary talents as a guitarist and singer. But it also highlights his songwriting chops as he co-wrote all the tracks with producers Bonamassa and Josh Smith. Tom Hambridge, James House, Keb’ Mo’ and LaDonna Gales, also contributed to a journey that Gales describes as being “very emotional for everyone involved. There was some time that had to be taken to prepare myself mentally for some of the things touched on in this album,” he says. “Tears were shed almost every day.”
Appropriately Crown opens with Death of Me, which both references his lowest point and reflects ruefully on some of his past battles. This blues-rock number rages with Gales’ strong vocals and fierce guitar riffs.
The aforementioned I Want My Crown is another standout, with its thumpasorous-funk recalling George Clinton and Bootsy Collins in their pomp. Stand Up elegantly shifts the ground to gospel and soul, as Gales talks in straight terms to anyone who feels like they’ve been trampled down: “People try to treat me like I don’t belong,” he sings, backed by a tight rhythm section comprising bassist Michael Rhodes and drummer Greg Morrow.
Other great tracks include the funk-driven You Don’t Know The Blues, The Storm, and the panoramic Too Close To The Fire, which in places evokes Pink Floyd’s Comfortably Numb to the extent that one wonders if Gales might one day get a ‘pin prick of a phone call’ from Waters and Gilmour’s lawyers.
The album bookends nicely with another outstanding track, My Own Best Friend, which again references Gales’s own personal struggles.
Crown sees Eric Gales back at the top of his game. He has a tour of the UK planned for spring 2022 and apparently has been so creatively-driven that there are a further 40 songs in the pipeline that he predicts will one day “take the world by storm”. Today, however, we can enjoy Gales’s renewed partnership with his buddy and fellow journeyman, Joe Bonamassa, which has produced a fine piece of work that is not to be missed.