Album Review: Gary Moore – Back to the Blues

Belfast-born guitarist Gary Moore had a remarkably diverse career. While his musical foundation was the blues – he was greatly influenced by Eric Clapton and Fleetwood Mac’s Peter Green – he is perhaps best known for his time with Irish hard rockers Thin Lizzy. But his solo work combined his love of blues and rock, exploring jazz fusion and even Celtic musical traditions as well. And by 1990 he turned his attention back toward his first musical love, releasing Still Got the Blues that year. And for the remainder of his life – Moore passed away in 2011 – he continued on that path. The titles of his albums from the last two decades of his life underscore his renewed commitment to his favorite musical form: Blues for Greeny, Power of the Blues, Old New Ballads Blues.

In 2001, Moore released his 13th solo album, Back to the Blues. In 2023 the album received a double-vinyl reissue, adding a handful of bonus tracks. A collection of ten tracks – more than half of them originals written in a traditional style – the album features a lean and mean instrumental lineup. Joining Moore are bassist Pete Rees, drummer Darrin Mooney and keyboardist Vic Martin; all three would continue to work with Moore on various projects in the coming years.

“Enough of the Blues” opens with just the sounds of Moore on vocals and dobro. But after 35 seconds in that style, the song opens up to a blistering, blues-rock arrangement. Moore’s sinewy lead guitar break is brief yet sonically distinctive; he injects riffs into the tune as it stomps toward a conclusion.

A reading of B.B. King’s “You Upset Me Baby” adds a swinging, swaggering and sassy brass section to the proceedings; the horn players punctuate the arrangement, and Moore turns in a spirited vocal. Sparring with the brass, his guitar solo is tasty as well. “Cold Black Night” is a thin rewrite of Junior Wells’ “Messin’ With the Kid,” but it’s a fiery performance nonetheless.

After taking that song at a near-manic pace, Moore slows things down for a searing cover of “Stormy Monday.” It’s fair to wonder if the world needs yet another version of T-Bone Walker’s classic, but considered on its own, Moore’s faithful take on the tune is heartfelt and rock-solid.

“I Ain’t Got You” is another oft-covered standard; everyone from the Yardbirds to the Blues Brothers have released recordings of it. Moore’s reading of the song imbues it with a sinister character that fits well. An original, “Picture of the Moon” finds Moore in blues crooner mode, and he wears the style well. Martin’s keyboard strings are slightly out of place here, but they’re subtle enough not to intrude too stridently upon the arrangement.

Moore’s highly charged approach to the blues is ideally suited for material like Johnny “Guitar” Watson’s “Looking Back,” and his muscular reading of the 1961 tune is a highlight of Back to the Blues. Here, Martin’s gurgling organ works a treat, and Moore’s licks are thrilling. The spare and atmospheric blues of the instrumental track “The Prophet” provide an opportunity for Moore to stretch out, playing soaring, sustained lines on his electric guitar.

“How Many Lies” moves back into swinging blues-rock territory. Mooney’s hypnotic drum pattern give a moody feel to the original album closer, “Drowning in Tears.” Bonus tracks on the new vinyl reissue include a sizzling pair of live cuts from a VH-1 performance.