To the uninitiated, Rory Gallagher's All Around Man -Live in London may appear to be nothing more than a routine live release from the late Irish bluesman's archive. Even to fans who take only a cursory glance at the title and its contents, it could well seem to be a somewhat desultory effort in the wake of the deluxe anniversary box sets, the eponymous solo debut Rory Gallagher: 50th Anniversary Edition Box Set (Universal Music Enterprises, 2021) and Deuce: 50th Anniversary Edition (Universal Music Enterprises, 2022).
But such dismissive attitudes disappear with the two-CD set in hand. The vivid front cover painting (by Irish graffiti artist Vincent Zara) appears in the same glossy finish as the equally-stylish design inside the double-fold dig-pak. Meanwhile, Nigel Summerly's essay, within the enclosed twelve-page booklet, delineates the practical distinctions of this set. The sum total of such subtly-wrought virtues constitutes a package which is nothing less than a labor of love; carefully curated by the Gallagher family, it is without question one of the best Gallagher archive releases and there have been more than a few [see the double-CD Notes From San Francisco (Eagle Rock, 2011) and the DVD Live in Cork (Eagle Vision, 2009)].
The latter derives from a performance in 1987, the same general time period as All Around Man. A phase of Gallagher's career not so comprehensively documented for posterity, at least until now, the content comprises culls from recordings of two nights at the Town And Country Club in London in December 1990.
Mixed by Martin Dubka and mastered by Frank Arkwright at Abbey Road Studios, the resulting audio quality of these recently-discovered multi- tracks resonates with the fiery intensity of the band playing both at full-throttle, on cuts such as "Moonchild," as well as in a slightly more temperate mode a la "Tattoo'd Lady."
While more information than ever is now available about this indefatigable artist's health challenges later in his careerhe passed in 1995this is hardly a portrait of an artist in decline, if by no other benchmark than the guttural passion of his singing on "Heaven's Gate,' to name one cut. While the preponderance of cover songs may constitute a superficial indication of some diminution of the guitarist/songwriter/vocalist's creativityat least in terms of composing original songs at the same prolific rate he had maintained the previous two decades including his time in the seminal power trio Tastethe selection of numbers from the esteemed canons of musical icons serves a dual purpose.
That litany of inclusions from Sonny Boy Williamson II ("Don't Start Me Talkin'"), Little Richard ("Keep A Knockin'"), McKinley Morganfield a.k.a. Muddy Waters ("I Wonder Who") and Son House ("Empire State Express") ratifies the issue of this packagelike the triple-CD set Blues (UME/Cadet, 2019)on the imprimatur of Cadet Records, originally established as the jazz subsidiary of Chicago's Chess Records, while the juxtaposition of covers with original material reaffirms the craft intrinsic to Gallagher's compositions such as "Kid Gloves."
Those aforementioned high-quality sonics render it impossible to miss the attractions of Rory Gallagher's supporting cast on All Around Man; bassist Gerry McAvoy is a longstanding member of the Cork native's bands since the early '70s and his stalwart input throughout, while invariably unobtrusive, is arguably as intense as the leader's during "Mean Disposition."; the same might be said of drummer Brendan O'Neill who, although a relative newcomer to the fold, is no less committed in the urgency of his playing, prominently featured on "Shin Kicker." He is as much of a piledriver as his aforementioned partner in the rhythm section, the two propelling the quintet to a breathless finish after four solo numbers by its leader.
Both melody accompanists also display consummate taste in their decorations to the arrangements. At various junctures, keyboardist Geraint Watkins ("Don't Start Me Talkin'") and harpist Mark Feltham ("Walkin' Blues") add just enough color to whet the appetite for more of their self-disciplined and to-the-point playing; the former is also deft in his use of accordion on the homage to Clifton Chenier "The King of Zydeco).
In those instances of readily-recognizable restraint, Watkins and Feltham (like McAvoy and O'Neill) are following the lead of Rory Gallagher himself. In the inexorable shift of momentum throughout this two hour-plus duration, the man adamantly refuses to over play or allow himself to wander aimlessly sans new ideas. On the contrary, he has so fully processed the roots of style in his music, that he effortlessly varies his tone, touch, and attack, without ever resorting to crowd-pleasing shtick. The only showmanship he allows himself is the most musicianly sort with which he and the band close "Continental Op."
In fact, by holding himself back on "Shadow Play," for instance, he simply increases the impact of what he does play. The self-discipline is even more overt in his deft use of the slide as it appears on "Ghost Blues"; he is just as precise with the tool on acoustic during "Ride On Red, Ride On." Each of the two modes of instrumentation elicits a different display of technique, but there is no lack of panache from Gallagher on either front.
Even as the unity of the indefatigable quintet supplies the finishing touches to Live In London, their standard bearer remains a living breathing symbol of earnest devotion to the muse, a loyalty he manifests with absolutely unfettered joy throughout. All around man indeed.
CD 1: Continental Op; Heaven's Gate; Don’t Start Me Talkin’; Kid Gloves; Mean
Disposition; The Loop;; The King of Zydeco; Moonchild; Out On The Western Plains;
Ride On Red, Ride On; Walkin Blues; Empire State Express. CD 2: Shadow Play; I
Wonder Who; Shin Kicker; Middle Name; When My Baby She Left Me; Ghost Blues;
Messin’ With The Kid; Keep A Knockin’; Bullfrog Blues; All Around Man
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