Written by: Kevin Brennan
Ian Gillan has released a new solo album and it's pretty good.
Gillan is one of the most distinctive singers of the past 40 years, spawning a graveyard full of imitators and wanna-bes, most of whom never came close to matching his energy and power as frontman for Deep Purple. Before you start with the "they're such dinosaurs" remarks, take another listen to Machine Head, one of the greatest hard rock records of all time. Those songs are filled with his lyrics and his vocals are a perfect fit for the music. A true moment in time, or a "Child in Time" for those in the know.
There are about 37 years in between that album and his most recent, One Eye to Morocco. While he's not the screamer he used to be, Gillan still brings a recognizable vocal presence that recalls the old days while showing his tamer side.
First off, the title song is a rock and roll trip to the Middle East, complete with a dreamy groove and a mystical feel that is ultra-cool in its restraint. If there still were such a thing, it would be the first single and a bit of a groundbreaker in its departure from his typical sound.
Next up is "No Lotion For That," a rocker which harkens back to the Purple sound of the 80s. Not too imaginative, not too fresh, but when a song rocks like this, it doesn't have to be. I could have done with a bit heavier sound and left the horn section behind but what the hell. A veteran bringing the goods and keeping it around three minutes.
Song three is "Don't Stop" which features a mellower guitar sound, more horns and a clippity-clop beat that would have made it to MTV if they still played music and if a guy who's old enough to be a grandfather could get his tunes played.
"Change My Ways" is heavier in the vein of "No Lotion" and features a little Santana-like breakdown of bongos and organ mid-song that is tailor-made for a load of solos live in concert. Pretty good stuff.
It sounds as if Gillan took his band to the beach for a day in the sun and they came back with "Girl Goes to Show." Reggae-influenced, slinky slide guitar and spending time with a girl. Not a stretch for most, but a departure for Gillan that works.
"Better Days" continues the slower pace with a heavy dose of the blues filtered through some slick production. Not bad, not great and not out of place here either.
"Deal With It" is a treat more for the production than the song. Cranked up, the instruments are very clear with a crisp acoustic guitar and dose of percussion that add the right color without overpowering the electric elements.
"Ultimate Groove" doesn't deliver on its name but is a mid-tempo blues rocker that features a pleasing mix of keyboards, bongos and guitar that works.
"The Sky is Falling Down" keeps it all moving at a comfortable pace and shows guitarist Michael Lee Jackson stepping out and handling it well while not going too far. Nice wah-wah Mike. Really.
Bassist Rodney Appleby brings a lot of bottom to "Texas State of Mind," which, with more guitar, less piano, no horns and a bit more speed, could have found its way on to Perfect Strangers, Purple's excellent comeback album of the 80s which reunited the classic early 70s lineup. But since it didn't turn out that way, it didn't do much for me.
"It Would Be Nice" plays the mellow verse/stomping chorus card and it sounds like everyone is trying too hard to make a mediocre tune into a good song. This is the dreaded filler cut.
"Always the Traveller" closes the album in a mellow way and brings out the sax, the organ and the sentimental part of Gillan's personality. "Always the traveller, I drift in the wind. There's something about you that's drawing me in."
That line sums up my feeling about this album. I have drifted far away from Gillan at times, not being terribly interested in his solo works following his initial departure from Deep Purple and then being sucked in again in the 80s only to fall off when Blackmore got bored and cashed it in for good. Now I am back again and I have found Gillan to be an artist who has more depth than I had presumed, who realizes that less is often more and that a singer needs to know his limits.
Hats off to producer Nick Blagona for often creating true aural beauty and showing a willingness to stay back and let the song do its thing. The band is also top-notch without being over the top.
Overall, One Eye to Morocco is a work of restraint that works pretty well.
Purchase One Eye to Morocco from Amazon - CD or MP3
Visit Ian Gillan's official websitemore