One of the pleasures of assembling a collection of “greatest” or “essential” tracks for an artist like Rory Gallagher is the unbounded, subjective freedom for picking songs. After all, Gallagher got scant if any radio play, but he had a huge following thanks to his incredible live shows and uncompromising approach to music.
The Essential Rory Gallagher , a two-disc set of Gallagher greats, is a case in point. This 28-song collection includes just eight of the 24 tracks from 2005’s Big Guns: The Very Best Of Rory Gallagher . So, the question begs, what’s better – the “essential” tracks or the “very best” tunes? For my money, The Essential … is the better collection and more representative of Rory’s total recorded output, with songs represented from more than a dozen albums.
Gallagher was a master of electric and acoustic blues, and it’s the electric side that takes precedence here. Tracks such as “Laundromat,” “Brute Force & Ignorance,” “Cradle Rock” and “Bullfrog Blues” demonstrate his fierce blues-rock side, while the racing jazz of “They Don’t Make Them Like You Anymore,” the plaintive acoustic strumming of “Wheels Within Wheels” and the nimble fingerpicking on the instrumental “Lonesome Highway” showcase yet other sides of Gallagher’s musicianship.
A few deep tracks show up as well, including the menacing shuffle “Loanshark Blues,” the power-chord-drenched “Philby” and the muscular “Continental Op” – three songs that should send Gallagher completists back to the Top Priority and Defender albums for another listen. And check out “Edged In Blue,” with its sublime intro and warm guitar tone far from the steely sound Gallagher often coaxed from his trusty Fender Stratocaster.
Gallagher was in his element performing live, and we’re treated to five in-concert tracks, including the momentous “Brute Force & Ignorance” from Stage Struck and “Tattoo’d Lady” from Irish Tour .
I would have argued for a live version of the Chuck Berry-on-steroids’ “Shin Kicker” to be included, too, but that’s minor quibbling.
If you know the name but not the music, this retrospective is truly an essential listen.