Straight out of the box, these songs sound like you’ve known them for years. There’s not a weak track on the record, provided you appreciate soulful vocals, gospel-informed background singers, and rootsy guitar-based rock & roll. In a time of worldwide upheaval, there’s a welcome note of optimism and even moments of triumph on this release.
The new Lee Gallagher and The Hallelujah album, “L.A. Yesterday,” arrives on your doorstep in the middle of an ongoing quarantine, and immediately takes you far beyond the four walls of your dingy apartment. Psych-rock reviews tend to toss around phrases like “widescreen Coastal Highways,” “Southern California deserts”, and “Laurel Canyon vibes.” Those terms apply in spades to “L.A. Yesterday,” but they also undersell a remarkably strong, original work. Without a hint of nostalgia or ‘retro’ leanings, the songs blend heaviness and acoustic passages with stellar songwriting.
There’s a certain elephant in the room when talking about Lee Gallagher. On his past releases, Gallagher’s astounding voice has been plagued by over-familiarity. He has an amazing set of pipes, but he’s occasionally suffered from sounding a little too much like artists we already know. (Most of whom are legends.) In the past, Gallagher’s voice found some enviable middle-ground between Steve Marriott, Neil Young, and Chris Robinson. On “L.A. Yesterday” he finally sounds entirely like his own artist. The astonishing vocals are still present and accounted for, but the voice sounds like nobody but Lee Gallagher. Everything is a bit more defined in the mix compared to his self-titled debut, or his “Valley Of A Dying Breed” EP. This definition allows space for Gallagher to find and exhibit his own character.
Musically, Gallagher is trading in American roots-rock. The Band are a good touchstone, especially Garth Hudson’s keyboards. They’re channeled here on the organ that drives “Good Night Sweet Maria”, performed by longtime co-conspirator Kirby Hammel, who also plays live with Sun Kil Moon. The track ascends into a choral crescendo that can be objectively described as “glorious.” “Lullaby for the Acid Queen” introduces Gallagher’s harmonica-playing, reminding the listener Gallagher is more than just a vocal talent. “Feed Your Flame” builds like a folk-rock power-ballad. It moves from a gentle string-led opening through to an uplifting, lyrically-positive climax, offering support to an unnamed friend of the “highway kind.” “Astral Plane Blues” thrusts Gallagher’s harmonica front and center. On the introduction, the blues-harp sounds like a rusty gate (in the best possible way), and it returns to deliver a passionate solo.
“California Divide” is the most out-and-out rocker, showcasing the power of new drummer Will Scott (GospelbeacH, Mooney Suzuki). “County Line” may seem like a late-album filler track given its place in the album’s sequencing, but it finds Gallagher hitting his highest notes and tossing off his best vocal performance on a record full of strong vocals. Eight songs deep in the record, and it still sounds like any track could be a single. Then “Gone Today” flat-out swaggers, hitting the same snake-hipped vibe Axl Rose used to channel before the botox and the lawsuits.
I do hanker for a full-throated rocker in the vein of early single “Ready For the Mountain,” or “Gloryland” from the first Lee Gallagher & The Hallelujah LP. Guitarist Jacob Landry (Caravan 222, The Love Dimension) has departed in favor of “L.A. Yesterday” co-producer Jason Soda, of fellow-travellers GospelbeacH. The results may not charge as hard as earlier efforts, but what they lack in ballsy swagger they make up for in refined clarity and an independent voice. Perhaps earlier, rawer productions were more hurried, and didn’t allow Gallagher the studio time necessary to demonstrate his own unique vocal power? “L.A. Yesterday” corrects that.
Exquisitely produced, organic and heartfelt; this is an excellent album front to back. Real pulsating rock & roll, this is going to soundtrack a lot of California-desert roadtrips, with widescreen Laurel Canyon vibes included as a free bonus.
How good is this record? Let’s just say you don’t want to be left in the cold when demand for the vinyl outstrips the initial order. Head over to Lee Gallagher’s bandcamp page and put an advance order in now. As the kids say, you do not want to sleep on this one.
To purchase ‘L.A. Yesterday”, visit: