Royal references of the cover image and the album’s title aside, Eric Gales’ latest album, Crown, contains little in the way of self-aggrandizing musical fanfare that one might expect given its introduction. Instead, the lyrics and tone converge around themes of regret, redemption, and resurgence. With his trademark humility and hard-won wisdom, Gales addresses his past struggles, love lost and found, and modern society—especially racism. Unsurprisingly, the music is regal. With producers Joe Bonamassa and Josh Smith at the helm, an incredibly focused effort by Gales breathes life into 13 tautly constructed tunes and a couple brief-but-memorable instrumental vignettes on an impressive album.
While 2019’s The Bookends gave audiences a glimpse of Gales’ ability to create an almost story-like album filled with diverse and imaginative tracks, the sheer range of variety made it a challenging listen at times. Crown displays a tighter and more cohesive narrative both lyrically and musically, without sacrificing any of the creative spark that makes Gales’ music and playing so engaging. Like the previous effort, Crown contains no weak tracks, but here they fit together better as a whole.
Eagerly diving into the album and his past, Gales opens with the dark and menacing “Death Of Me.” The tone matches the subject matter as he recalls an imagined conversation with a younger version of himself. With a quiet, reflective middle third and grungy-metal intonations throughout, the influences of Bonamassa and Smith are felt, but wisely stop short of overshadowing Gales. It is the darkest, and one of the best songs on the album. “I Want My Crown” vies for this title as well, with Gales and Bonamassa seamlessly trading impressive guitar barbs under the guise of a heavyweight boxing match. On this track that inspired the album title, Gales shares a triumphant moment of pride, warranted as much by his musical prowess as his journey to the top.
Guitar driven rock and blues are the main course, but Crown varies the palette with a healthy dose of funky keys, strident horns, and the incredible backing vocals of LaDonna Gales—an accomplished musician in her own right. Justifiably, their roles are reversed on “Take Me Just As I Am,” a soulful throwback number reminiscent of the colorful Curtis Mayfield sound. The rangy “I Found Her” begins as a gentle acoustic love ballad, but finishes with an electric scream as the final guitar solo rips through the mix rivalling any of the previous fretwork on the set, including the gems from “Survivor” and “Too Close To The Fire.”
Not to be overlooked is the inclusion of a trio of short instrumental tracks that speckle the setlist. Each a quick view of a musical idea, they whet the listener’s appetite and then quickly disappear. All seem to have potential as standalone works—especially the Hendrix-esqe “Rattlin’ Change”—but are left in their nascent stage by the enigmatic Gales.
The great accomplishment of Crown lies in its unique collection of songs and especially sounds. Eric Gales writes music that pulls in various styles and blends them in such a way that would handcuff other artists. Shifting from metal-tinged blues into a rap-driven verse, delivering a capella intros, or his seamless use of eccentric guitar sounds are things that Gales can do that many other talented artists can’t. On Crown, every song has the ability to stand on its own merit, and as a through-composed album it performs even better. It may be Gales’ best effort to date.
The Review: 9/10
Can’t Miss Tracks
– Death Of Me
– I Want My Crown
– Too Close To The Fire
– Take Me Just As I Am
– I Found Her
The Big Hit
– Too Close To The Fire