June 25, 2024

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CD review: Gary Moore – The Sanctuary Years – 1999 – 2004 – 2023: Video, CD cover

Born the same neighborhood in Belfast, Northern Ireland, as Van Morrison, Gary Moore (1952-2011) was one of the most influential guitarists of his generation, bridging blues, blues-rock, heavy metal and jazz fusion.

Irish guitar legend Gary Moore will be honored by the release of the box set The Sanctuary Years, which will bring fans four complete albums from Moore’s time on the Sanctuary record label.

And all of those talents are on display in this collection, which should thrill fans as it gives a rear-mirror glance at the six years he spent at Sanctuary Records, which – prior to its acquisition by BMG – was the largest independent label in the United Kingdom and the largest music management firm in the world.

Originally from Northern Ireland, Gary Moore gained fame as a solo artist and as a member of rock icons Thin Lizzy. He was originally inspired by Peter Green and Eric Clapton and always carried their blues in his heart. He shifted into harder rock and heavy metal during the 1980s and again found international success. He came back to his roots in 1990 with the hit album Still Got The Blues, his most commercially successful effort. He continued putting out new music in his later years but passed in 2011 from a heart attack while vacationing in Spain. He left behind a legacy of incredible music and a spot that will never be filled.

Packaged together for the first time are four of his seminal recordings – A Different Beat, Back to the Blues, Scars – which teamed him with Cass Lewis and Darrin Mooney, and Power of the Blues, all of which include extensive new essays from Canadian musician/journalist Dave Everley along with their original liner notes. Two of the discs feature bonus recordings, and a fifth Blu-Ray disc serves up a surround-sound version of Back to the Blues along with two interviews with the fret burner.

Moore drew early inspiration from Peter Green and Eric Clapton and rose to fame in the late ‘60s as a member of the rock groups Skid Row and Thin Lizzy, but had an enduring love for the blues, which surfaced regularly in everything he did until his passing of a heart attack at age 58 while on vacation. After about 20 successful years as a soloist on Virgin Records, he joined the Sanctuary fold in 1999 through its acquisition of Castle Records, his new label.

Electronic music had taken the world by storm. And always an innovator Gary was experimenting with the new artform when he recorded the aptly named A Different Beat with a stripped-down lineup that included keyboard player/programmer Roger King of the Steve Hackett band and brief appearances from drummer Gary Husband and programmer Phil Nicholls.

As the roster suggests, this work basically features interplay between Gary’s guitar and shifting, persistent rhythms. The blistering “Go On Home” sets the tone with Moore laying down wah-wah pedal-infused runs atop a dance beat common to the discos of the era. It gives way to “Lost in Your Love,” which adds a soulful feel to the mix and keeps the album moving forward before “Worry No More” plays off a heavy rock chorus with optimistic lyrics. A blazing version of Jimi Hendrix’s “Fire” follows before a dramatic sonic shift through the ballad, “Surrender,” which slowly picks up intensity throughout.

Where’s the blues, you ask? Up next. Funky triplets on drums open “House Full of Blues” before it erupts into a blues-rocker and the acoustic “Bring My Baby Back,” which has a country-blues feel before it takes on 21st century, electric appeal, which dominates “Can’t Help Myself” and “Fatboy,” an extended number built on one repetitive hook. “We Want Love” concludes the original album before an extended remix of “Can’t Help Myself” brings the new version to a close.

The disc that follows, Back to the Blues, serves up a heavy dose of the blues-rock that you’re looking for. It’s something that he’s been looking for, he admits in the opener, “Enough of the Blues.” And you know he’s telling the truth when he launches into “You Upset Me,” “Cold Black Night,” “Stormy Monday” and “Ain’t Got You” to follow. The original, “Picture of the Moon,” precedes Johnny Guitar Watson’s “Looking Back” before three more fresh numbers – “The Prophet,” “How Many Lies” and “Drowning in Tears” – bonus cuts of three of the tracks all combine to put a smile on your face.

Scars, meanwhile, finds Moore reverting to his beloved power-trio format for hard-edged blues-rock with a strong emphasis on the latter. Hendrix casts a large shadow over the opener, “When the Sun Goes Down,” before an all-original set that includes “Rectify,” “Wasn’t Born in Chicago,” “Stand Up,” “Just Can’t Let You Go,” “My Baby (She’s So Good to Me,” “World of Confusion,” “Ball and Chain,” “World Keep Turnin’” and “Who Knows (What Tomorrow May Bring?).”

But then its back to the basics with keys in tow for Power of the Blues, the fourth – and best – album in the set. A mix of seven originals and three covers, Gary holds nothing back from the opening riffs of the title cut before launching into “There’s a Hole,” “Tell Me Woman,” Willie Dixon’s “I Can’t Quit You Baby,” “That’s Why I Play the Blues,” “Dixon’s “Evil,” “Getaway Blues,” Curtis Mayfield’s “Memory Pain,” “Can’t Find My Baby” and “Torn Inside.”

Each of the albums compiled in The Sanctuary Years is unique and special in its own way. Moore’s 1999 platter A Different Beat displays his fearless creativity by putting his blazing blues/rock style on top of block-rocking electronic grooves. Tracks like “Go On Home” and “Lost In Your Love” carve out a new sound that blends lyrical songwriting, rock guitar, and dance beats into something fresh that still sounds contemporary even now. Moore always had a timeless quality to his work and it’s in full effect on these tracks.

2021’s Back To The Blues refocused Moore on his primordial blues/rock sound and hearing him plugged in and ripping at full strength is glorious. His vocals are gritty and confident and his guitar tone and playing are epic and profound. The opener, “Enough Of The Blues,” begins on solo resonator slide and vocals before stomping the gas pedal with a full band. This is heavy, Irish blues/rock that’ll grab you by the scruff and drag you right down to the front row. Moore’s saturated guitar tone soars and his licks are positively volcanic.

“Cold Black Night” is funky and fast, giving Gary another chance to release the beast. It’s as intense as blues/rock gets and Moore’s guitar work is truly overwhelming. He uses notes, noise, and texture to make the arrangement burn itself to completeness and the heat coming out of him will light your smoke for you. This kind of energy was always part of Moore’s style and few can match it.

The 2002 album Scars brought about another stylistic shift for Moore, this time into a Band of Gypsys-era Hendrix vibe. Moore came of age listening to this type of highly-improvised, jam-based music and put it down like a boss. Standout songs include “When The Sun Goes Down” and the eccentric “Wasn’t Born In Chicago.” This is Moore at his most wild and dramatic and you’re going to love where he takes you.

2004’s Power Of The Blues is the fourth record in the set and brings Moore back to his tough, blues/rock center. The opening title track is a full-on slammer with a huge groove. Bass legend Bob Daisley (Rainbow, Ozzy Osbourne) plays on this and on the rest of the album and adds the solid feel he keeps in his hip pocket.

One of the most memorable songs on Power Of The Blues is Moore’s smoldering treatment of the 1956 Otis Rush hit “I Can’t Quit You Baby.” Moore plays some pure blues as he knows them to be and conjures up more than a little magic on vocals and guitar. He lets his speed out of the bag during his solos and raises the temperature in the room with each chorus. This is a contemporary take on the real vintage thing and will knock you out flat.

The Sanctuary Years is an excellent summation of Gary Moore’s turn-of-the-century period and showcases everything that made him a star. It’s pure, experimental, blasting, and delicate in turn and shows how each of those ideas could fill his entire being. This is a wonderful set for anyone who loves Moore and fine guitar music. Get it before it’s gone!

Gary Moore was a genius at his art, and there’s a lot to like here. And if you’re into surround sound, you’ll find the bonus disc interesting, too.

Gary Moore, The Sanctuary Years, album cover

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