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RORY GALLAGHER Notes From San Francisco Capo (2011)

Rory Gallagher

'Notes From San Francisco' is an essential purchase for all Rory fans, not so much because this previously unreleased studio album is a masterpiece but more because it hints at an attempt at a new direction with a fattening of the sound. Three stonking bonus tracks round off the 'lost' album. Additionally there is of course a separate 'Live at The Old Waldorf in San Francisco' live CD which perfectly distills Rory's intense style.

The ill fated 1977 studio album was cut at His Masters Wheels Studio in San Francisco and was slated for a 1978 release. It was the last recorded output of the Rod De'Ath/Lou Martin line-up. The album was scrapped right at the end of the session by a frustrated Rory who at different times alluded to being dissatisfied with the material and later pointed to technical difficulties, the mix and ultimately the band.

Years later it all makes more sense as his brother Donal explained that this album was going to be 'the big one', but a combination of Rory's dissatisfaction with the recording process and having reputedly seen the raw energy of the Sex Pistols led him to scrap the band and the album.

In the event he later reworked 5 of the songs - 'Mississippi Sheiks', 'Overnight Bag' 'Cruise On Out', 'Brute Force And Ignorance' and 'Fuel to the Fire' - in Germany on 'Photo Finish', which leaves us to ponder why he didn't like the rest.

And the answers are only partial forthcoming here. Certainly the opening 'Rue The Day', although over produced with generous amounts of sax, finds Rory in fine form. On the other hand on songs like 'Overnight Bag' you can see his point, with too much pounding piano, doubled up guitar parts and an all round clutter that doesn't compare favorably to the much simpler arrangement on 'Photo Finish'.

Above all his vocals are mixed too far back with the lyrical meaning struggling to be heard against the over bearing production. And yet on other occasions Elliot Mazer's production does bring forth unexpected little triumphs, most notably with the addition of Joe O'Donnell's electric violin on the otherwise dirgy 'Mississippi Sheiks'

But if as we now know Rory was apprehensive about the big production sound, he still enjoys moments of real quality on an album that by anyone else's standards is for the most part excellent.

On 'Cruise On Out' there's an outstanding rhythmic feel and a pristine sonic quality as the band fires on all cylinders. You can perhaps understand the added percussion keyboards, horn parts and an almost Caribbean feel on 'Brute Force & Ignorance' but the belated slide burst sits uncomfortably with the later Mariachi horn part.

'Fuel to The Fire' also makes good use of Rory's melodic guitar lines, teasing out the heartbreak of the lyrics and is another good example of Mazer's well intentioned production ideas.

Perhaps the album was a few songs short of its lofty aims, but it's still a joy to finally hear after all these years.

The 3 bonus tracks provide an interesting postscript with Rory back to his gritty best especially on the down to the wire 'Cut A Dash'.

And so to the 'Old Waldorf' live album. Were it not for long time fans burning curiosity about the 'missing' album, I'd wager a lot of listeners would head straight to the live bonus disc and they won't be disappointed as Rory, Ted McKenna and Gerry McAvoy tear it up in front of a wild crowd.

Rory is at his peak, playing fiery, fast, inventive licks and blasting his way through a set of fan favorites as he subtly swaps tones and accents through a high octane set. The highlights are many but you can't go wrong with the kick ass rocking of 'Shin Kicker', the enveloping chiming guitar sound of 'Bought And Sold', the mesmerizing, spine tingling 'Tattoo Lady' and the coruscating riffs of 'Do You Read Me', complete with a mid number Beatles riff.

Then there's the powerful chords and timeless riffs of 'Shadow Play' and inevitably the show stopping, bone crunching rock & roll of 'Bullfrog Blues'.

Ultimately, if you ever had to explain the reason for the enduring legend of Rory Gallagher, and why he was reverred by Hendrix himself, look no further than this live set.

For while the studio album finds Rory in a state of flux against a shifting musical backdrop, 'Live at The Old Waldorf' finds him in his element as one of the great rock- blues performers of his time.


Review by Pete Feenstra

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***** Out of this world | **** Pretty damn fine |
*** OK, approach with caution unless you are a fan |
** Instant bargain bin fodder | * Ugly. Just ugly

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