- 02 May 19
To celebrate the 37th anniversary of Rory Gallagher's ninth studio album, Jinx,we're revisiting Niall Stokes' review of the classic album, originally published in Hot Press in 1982.
This is the point at which we finally jettison any attempt to lumpen Rory Gallagher with the HM crew, new or old. He’s had to live with that kind of insidious condescension for too long – the London rock fashion mob’s revenge for the fact that Rory has played it straight right down the line.
Even the point at which the HM tradition and Rory’s do cross – the concept of guitar hero its most concrete manifestation – has become less palpable with Jinx, taking the impetus of ‘Top Priority’ towards tighter, more focussed songs even further. On the one hand Jinx sees Rory re-investigating a more down-home slant on his original R’n’B base, in a manner variously reminiscent, among white guitarists, of Johnny Winter and Peter Green; on the other it sees his penchant for short sharp dramatic and, in some cases, melodically endowed songs further explored. The centrality of his virtuoso guitar playing remains but, on balance, a leaner and cleaner approach emphasises Rory’s mainline to R’n’B and rock’n’roll roots from Muddy Waters, through Carl Perkins and back to Albert King.
There isn’t a weak track on Jinx and at its best, it’s superb. In particular ‘Big Guns’, working off a stop-start riff which is within a stone’s throw of Clash territory, zaps you straight between the eyes.
In a direct line from ‘Philby’, though without the latter’s resonances on the question of identity, the song finds Rory working out his passion for crime thrillers. "It’s a long way from the pool hall/to the rackets and the petty crime/thought you were a tough one/but you’ve bitten off too much this time," he admonishes before sketching in the dramatic detail, over a pumping rhythm that palpably delivers the sense of urgency laced with terror felt by the song’s hapless protagonist, his back against the wall: "Now you're runnin’ scared/got no place to run/Caught between the law and the/Big Guns!"
Short, sharp and devastating, like a friendly visit from your local hit squad, ‘Big Guns’ leaves you in no fit condition to assess the damages inflicted by Gallagher’s magnum sharp-shooting and the merciless backup work of Gerry McAvoy on double-barrel shotgun and Brendan O’Neill on Armalite.
If ‘Big Gun’ is about trying to stay one step ahead of an inevitably bloody come-uppance, that same sense of Nemesis is internalised on ‘Bourbon’. In fact much of Gallagher’s material from ‘Goin’ To My Hometown’ to ‘Philby’ is concerned with transit and the feeling – more or less real in different instances but too often a sad illusion – of freedom it conveys. There’s no two ways about its implication in this account of the ravages suffered by a fading rock’n’roller, as he watches the arc of his optimism fall into impossible decline: "Drinkin’ down the bourbon like it was soda pop/trying to kill a feeling he knows will never stop/Head held high but his heart is on his knees…"
These highlights are closely followed by ‘Signals’, with its enticing melodic colourings and interesting guitar textures, shadings of the Edge-country in there somewhere; ‘Easy Come, Easy Go’, a slow minor blues on which Gallagher opts for a fat, mellow, lyrical tone similar to Peter Green’s on early Fleetwood Mac material and evokes a warm, still, healing sense of reassurance and calm in the face of a troubled world; ‘Jinx’ with its voodoo rhythms and mournful harp; ‘Double vision’, highlighted by a fat and succulent slide part; ‘The Devil Made Me Do it’, a frantic and humorous variation on the ‘Too Much Alcohol’ theme: "What did I do that was so bad/To go and get myself arrested/just in town to have some fun/and I end up in the trash can", ‘Ride On Red, Ride On’, the one non-Gallagher original and a paean to the swashbuckling character of the rock’n’roader; and ‘Loose Talk’, another song of re-assurance and fortitude in which the Gallagher ethos is most aptly summed up: rejecting the lure to play the game the uptown way, he offers the consoling advice: "Play the game the way your heat says/Keep on pushin’, you’ll get there yet".
It’s a mark of Gallagher’s authenticity that he has always played the game the way his heart says. And if that has led him into a narrow interpretation of his own sense of integrity, sometimes to the detriment of his career potential, then so be it. The net result is that there isn’t the remotest taint of pose or slumming it when he delivers an album of raw blood ‘n’ guts rock ’n’ roll ’n’ rhythm ’n’ blues like Jinx.
He has accepted the tonal and textural limitations of the three-piece idiom; he has taken the bulk of the weight of carrying an album onto the combination of his singing, his songwriting and his guitar-playing; he has worked to retain the live feel of the great fifties rock’n’roll and rhythm’n’blues recordings, achieving a feeling of rough spontaneity by eschewing the lavish use of over-dubbing; and with ‘Jinx’ he has pared his guitar playing back, allaying his natural exuberance with a more accurate sense of atmosphere.
This is just one mark of its strength within the chosen Gallagher framework. Indeed a measure of its quality-count in the context of his fifteen-odd years’ worth of album-recording is the fact that there is very little on Jinx which will not amount to a real addiction to the Gallagher live canon.
Rory Gallagher shares, with figures as diverse as Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, early Bob Dylan, The Clash and Joe Ely, in the tradition of rock’n’roll as outlaw country, where the compromises of conventional living are transcended, and the demons of impulse and self-destructiveness are confronted. His music carries the same voodoo charge, a legacy and an inspiration of the blues. These are the terms on which his contribution should be evaluated and criticised in the future.
For the moment it’s worth adding that few others have so consistently realised the Bob Dylan dictum from ‘Absolutely Sweet Marie’: "To live outside the law you must be honest…"