Sound: "The man who changed my musical life was Rory Gallagher, I picked up a guitar because of him." Those words were delivered by none other than Smiths/Modest Mouse/The Cribs guitarist Johnny Marr, and a bevy of others have long been influenced by the Irish musician who has not always gotten his due since his passing in 1995. Gallagher's impeccable guitar work was both technically inspiring and emotionally captivating, qualities that are immediately apparent on "Notes From San Francisco". The 2-CD release features a never-before reissued studio album recorded back in 1978, as well as an unreleased 1979 concert from San Francisco. These unheard gems are classic Gallagher fare, with even familiar tracks like "Overnight Bag" taking on new life thanks to the guitarists' constantly transforming style and creative fills.
A few decades back, Gallagher had opted to shelve the studio album that you'll now hear on disk one. Apparently Gallagher wasn't pleased with the overall mixing process, one of the many issues that eventually caused the break-up of his band. Thankfully the recordings were recovered by Rory's brother and manager, Dnal, who allowed his son Daniel to recover/restore the archived album. It paid off, with the 12 tracks (which included 3 bonus tracks) from that original record rarely delivering a dull moment. There are certainly bluesy overtones to the vast majority of the tracks, whether the opener "Rue The Day" the slide-rich "Mississippi Sheiks", or the gritty rocker "B Girl". The band's chemistry is undeniable, with particularly engaging moments coming from pianist/keyboardist Lou Martin and saxophonist Martin Fiero. But in the end it's Gallagher who never ceases to amaze with the amount of seemingly off-the-cuff licks he comes up with throughout the course of one song. It may seem overkill to some, but it's hard not to listen in awe as he peppers each track with ever-changing licks ("Persuasion" and the big finale "Out On The Tiles" are prime examples). With the concert heard on disk two, you get a rawness that might not have been quite as apparent in the studio setting. Classics like "Bullfrog Blues", "Calling Card", and "Do You Read Me" are among the 12 songs on that playlist, and Gallagher's energy never seems to ebb. The live CD comes across very much like a best-off offering, but once again, Gallagher has a way of shaping familiar songs into new entities via his keen sense of improvisation. // 9
Lyrics: The liner notes included within "Notes From San Francisco" feature content that Gallagher fans should truly appreciate: handwritten lyrics by the legendary guitarist himself. Arrows, boxes, and written guidelines like "repeat first verse" scattered on the pages provide some insight into how Gallagher crafted his songs, which range from the introspective "Wheels Within Wheels" ("If you keep your heart closed; You'll live out in the cold; And you'll go on searching; It's such a lonesome road") to the courtship-drive "Persuasion" ("Perfection, you seem to me; This connection, we ought to seal; My emotions, I can't conceal; Your heart I'll steal away"). Most of the tracks do have an emotional quality to them, making it a suitable match for the blues genre. // 9
Overall Impression: "Notes From San Francisco" could easily be considered an album catered to guitarists, but the songs are so infectious and well-written that it should appeal to a wide audience. Gallagher seems to deliver nonstop licks and/or riffage, which although may be much for someone with simpler musical tastes, reinforce precisely why Jimi Hendrix referred to Gallagher as the best guitarist in the world at one time. Although Gallagher passed away at the age of 47 in 1995, it's releases like "Notes From San Francisco" that will ensure a whole new generation of guitarists and music lovers in general give proper credit to the Irish rocker. // 9