Sound: Rory Gallagher's music didn't necessarily bombard American radio during the singer/guitarist's heyday, but it was also never overlooked by his peers. Everyone from Slash To Eric Clapton to Brian May have sung his praises, which perhaps makes it all the more important that his music continues to be embraced and circulated 14 years after his death. The latest 2-CD retrospective The Best of Rory Gallagher: Crest of a Wave not surprisingly has no shortage of amazing riffs and slide work, but his nephew Daniel Gallagher (who is credited with compiling the music) wanted to ensure that it was the core songwriting that received the most attention.
The blues influence certainly underlies a good portion of Crest of a Wave, and Gallagher (who actually turned down an opportunity to play with The Rolling Stones) did shine in the passion-fueled genre. If you haven't seen live performances of the Irish-born rocker, do yourself a favor and look up a few selections on YouTube immediately. His playing only gets upstaged by his nonstop onstage charisma. That being said, the recordings are still an absolutely worthwhile listening experience, particularly if you're interested in guitar in any aspect. From the heartfelt picking in the ballads Edged In Blues and Millions Miles Away to the Delta Blues-infused Out On The Western Plain, Gallagher takes you on a tour of his multiple influences throughout the 24-song collection.
Vocally, Gallagher at times has a similar vibrato to Eric Clapton, but the delivery is still undeniably unique. There's a raw quality that comes with each of Gallagher's recordings, and in many ways it fits more along the lines with traditional blues rather than 2nd generation blues. If you're fonder of that earthier side, you'll want to jump to the 2nd CD. That's not to say that disk 1 is anything to set aside, as it's chock full of contemporary blues/rock tracks like In Your Town and Walk On Hot Coals. It should be mentioned that Gallagher wrote every track with the exception of Out On The Western Plain, which was penned by Huddie Leadbetter. To find a 2-disk blues-influenced collection that contains primarily original material is a rare find indeed. // 9
Lyrics: In many ways Gallagher stuck to the traditional blues lyrical format, but to his credit he always had a knack for adding a witty or unconventional twist. Among the highlights on Crest of a Wave are Bad Penny, which includes such lines as, Well, like a bad penny you've turned up again; You're in my sights, there's a mist on my lens; I think you know how it was when I tripped and fell; Well, you double-dealed me, baby and I broke like a shell. The track Overnight Bag is another winner with the lyrics, Packed my things in an overnight bag; A toothbrush and guitar, got no tail to drag; Gonna leave, on the next passing breeze. This isn't your typical my baby's done me wrong format, making it a refreshing change. // 9
Overall Impression: For anyone who is not familiar with Rory Gallagher's work, Crest of a Wave is a must-have. Gritty blues oozes out of each tune, only rivaled by the steady rock undercurrent heard in the music as well. Gallagher's nephew emphasized that the core songwriting should always take precedence, and that's a completely understandable statement. But let's be honest: It's damn hard to not be easily wowed by the guitar techniques that you'll hear throughout the 2 disks. Just the slide work alone with make you a believer. // 10