Album Review: Eric Bell- 'Exile'.
Eric Bell is a man that has perhaps been dealt a slightly uneven hand in the annals of rock history. A respected elder statesman of the Irish music scene, the Belfast born guitarist was a founding member of the fledgling Thin Lizzy. Bailing out of the Dublin-based then-trio before they had truly made their mark, the incarnation that followed his tenure (save for a very brief stint with another Ulsterman - more of which later) has since gone on to be known as their definitive line-up; the one featuring the twin axe heroics of Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson. He might not be as recognisable or revered on the world’s stage as those who followed him, but his place in history is none the less rightfully secured, as a true originator.
Thin Lizzy might be a long time gone, but their legacy still looms large, and invariably, it’s history that informs ‘Exile’s make up; from those early vagabond days, through to the more recent past. Mixing a myriad of styles, musically, it’s a trawl through Bell’s earliest influences; from shake, rattle and roll r’n’b, to blues, jazz and beyond.
Playfully kicking off with the 1960s’ pop of ‘Deep In You Heart’, it’s on track two, the Rory Gallagher-esque ‘Don’t Love Me No More’, that Bell’s real essence begins to shine through. As a guitarist, Eric is a loose flowing, nimble-fingered player, and happily, his unique style translates effortlessly to the studio. Riddled with playful throwaway licks, it’s the first glimpse of the heart that informs ‘Exile’s’ most thrilling moments.
Vocally, ‘Don’t Love Me No More’ has more than a hint of Phil Lynott’s low down drawl, however elsewhere it’s Van Morrison vocal stylings that are recalled. This should be no surprise really, given both musicians’ Belfast origins, and both the opener and the childhood nostalgia of ‘Little Boy Running’ have echoes of Van The Man.
Though there are harder edged numbers aplenty, like the synchronised melodies of ‘Concrete Jungle’, and the electioneer pasting ‘Vote For Me’, ‘Exile’ works best on its more laid back moments. The lounge jazz of ‘Gotta Say Bye Bye’ is a convincing attempt at conjuring smoky lounge bars filled with cheap whisky and regret, and Bell’s voice and broken-hearted soloing melt into the music. A real stand-out, it’s among the album’s highlights. As is the beautiful unaccompanied title, track that sees a thoughtful Bell looking back: “Sometimes I feel like an Exile, no city, no country, no home”, he sings.
Regrets, he’s had a few, and the joyous ‘Thank God’, seemingly references his split form Thin Lizzy: “People they ask me about the past / they seem to think I had it made / If they’d have stood where I was standing / they might have seen it all as a big charade”, he protests. Dealing with his faith, it’s a song that ultimately carries a positive message.
An intensely personal album, it’s most introspective song is saved until last. A lament to fellow Irish guitar luminaire and another ex-Lizzy band member, ‘A Song For Gary’ tells the tale of Bell’s friendship with the late Gary Moore. A narration that begins with his first encounter with an eleven year old Moore at a club in Holywood Northern Ireland, it’s an emotive slow blues number, and a candidly revealing tribute to the Belfast bluesman.
On the press release that accompanies ‘Exile’, Bell states that: “This album reflects the music I like to play and listen to; I’m trying to cover the whole spectrum of music.” The range may be wide, but as a body of work, it works. Long out of the blue orphanage, and now out of exile, the original rocker has aged gracefully.
By Eamon O'Neill.
First published on uberrock.co.uk, 9 March 2016.