Middle of the Road
It may be titled Middle of the Road, but there's nothing intermediary, medial or halfway about Eric Gales' latest studio album.
Rather, Middle of the Road (Provogue/Mascot Label Group) is an exceptional new album from an extremely-gifted musician that at this point in his career, should be a household name.
Unfortunately, the Memphis born-and-raised Gales - who was a rising star and tagged as the 'next Jimi Hendrix' with a major label recording contract when he was just a teenager - has never been able to attract the mainstream following that he so justly deserves.
Hopefully, Middle of the Road will help to rectify that.
Over the course of his dozen-plus other albums that he has issued under his own name (along with a hearty helping of other projects and collaborations), the left-handed Gales has proven to be a force to be reckoned with on the guitar. While comparisons to Hendrix probably didn't do him any favors as a youngster, the fact is, those accolades are certainly not unwarranted. Gales is a monster guitar player and it doesn't take long after hearing him for that to sink in.
But Gales is no longer a young up-and-comer and that's where the real charm and substance of Middle of the Road lies.
This is Gales' most focused, cohesive and mature-sounding album to date.
It's still got all of the fire-breathing fretboard work that Gales is noted for, (he also sings lead on all the songs and lays down the bass, as well) but it's also got a bunch of really good and thoughtful songs on it. This is not a shred-for-shred's-sake album ... this is a genuine collection of well put together tunes that all seem to come from a deep and personal space.
To these ears, this is also Gales' best produced album and he's finally received the treatment from producer Fabrizio Grossi that has largely been missing from a lot of his other albums. The sound is thick, rich and warm and really suits Gales' music to a 'T.'
Another thing that makes Middle of the Road sparkle like a diamond is the wonderful backup vocals from Gales' wife, LaDonna. She does such an outstanding job at helping to flesh out the songs in a three-dimensional manner that perhaps the time is drawing near for her first solo album.
Middle of the Road certainly stands on its own legs, based solely on the work that Gales himself put into the album. However, it is cool to hear the contributions from guests like Gary Clark Jr. (on "Boogie Man" - the album's only cover tune) and young 16-year-old phenom (just like Gales himself once was) Christone 'Kingfish' Ingram (on "Help Yourself"). "Repetition" even brings things full-circle with the help of older brother (and dynamite musician, too) Eugene Gales, just like in the old days.
Eric Gales has had his share of ups and downs over the years and the way that he has dealt with a host of those issues make up the central themes of Middle of the Road.
That goes for the title, too.
As Gales himself said in the press release accompanying the album:
"It's about being fully focussed and centred in the middle of the road. If you're on the wrong side and in the gravel, you're not too good and if you're on the median strip that's not too good either, so being in the middle of the road is the best place to be. Unfortunately, you have to go through some things to be free. Now, I feel the most free I've ever been in life, even more so than when I was a kid."
Full disclosure: I have been a major fan and supporter of Eric Gales ever since he and his brothers started playing out as a group in their hometown of Memphis - back many, many years ago. They were like a breath of fresh air on an otherwise stagnant musical scene in the Bluff City those days.
It seems like ever since The Eric Gales Band album first hit the streets in 1991, the cat just seems to be getting better and better, with his musical growth showing no signs of stopping or even slowing down.
For proof positive of that, slide Middle of the Road into your player and let the music do the talking.