on 20 March 2009
It was a gloomy day as I sat down to review my copy of the new Ian Gillan solo album, One Eye to Morocco. Dark clouds were building in the sullen sky and drops of rain spat down intermittently on the world outside my window. Then I pressed play on my cd player and everything changed! No, a deluge was still threatening to be unleashed outside, but I no longer cared. I was transported--momentarily distracted, mind and soul--by the music that poured forth from my speakers. And what a wonderful distraction it is, too!
One Eye to Morocco is Ian Gillan's first album of original solo material since 1997's Dreamcatcher and I'm happy to report that the long wait was more than worth it. Gillan, of course, is the legendary and inimitable voice of Deep Purple and his solo endeavors are always fun, romantic, and often whimsical departures from the structure of that band. This album is no different, reveling in its liberation and freedom to explore various forms of music. You will find an amazing variety of influences, mixing together like exotic spices, intertwined amongst one another like lovers, all held together by Gillan's smooth, powerful, and instantly recognizable voice. Thoughtful, loose, and easy, it is so easy to let yourself go and to get lost in the velvety poetic seduction of this album. It will take you away, it will soothe your mind and soul, it will rock you and make you forget your inhibitions and dance in the joy of it all.
The musicians that Ian has brought in to help him produce this magnificent album are of the highest caliber. Guitarist Michael Lee Jackson shows off his versatility and fluidity, moving from smooth Eastern tones, to crunchy rock and roll chords, to blues and even Spanish-style guitar with equal ease and style. Bassist Rodney Appleby adds his deft touch, holding down the beat, helping nail down the rhythm, and showing off a few nice licks of his own while drummer Howard Wilson fills out the rhythm section with a great sense of style. Joe Menonna elicits passion from his saxophone, adding distinct flavors of jazz and old-time rock and roll with his colorful playing. Keyboard duties are shared across the album by Lance Anderson and Jesse O'Brien, and it's very nice to hear the Hammond and Wurlitzer organs punctuating the songs throughout, adding their unmistakable flavors to the feel of the entire composition.
Then there's Ian Gillan. His voice remains smooth and powerful. His unique vocal style pulls all of these wonderful and varied elements together and unite them as a whole. He moves so easily along all the different musical styles on the album, emotive, sensual, and passionate, sometimes dark and ironic, and always fluent and fluid. His voice can relax you and take you away, cause you to want to jump up and dance, or encourage you to sit and think. As a lyricist, he is unparalleled. An extremely talented writer and wordsmith, Gillan is at the top of his game here. From weaving tales of dealing with unprovoked violence to pondering the benefits of age, Ian always provides thought-provoking lyrics that are often shrouded in mystery and metaphor, making them that much more provocative.
The songs on One Eye to Morocco are an eclectic mix that shimmers with vitality and honesty. There's not one track on this album that feels unnecessary, unimportant, or like filler. As such, it's very difficult to pick favorites from it; it's one of those albums where every track will probably be a favorite at some time or another. The title track itself has a distinct eastern flavor accentuated with some very lovely cello and does a wonderful job of distracting the listener and inviting you to some exotic destination as Gillan sings smoothly about being "lost in a dream of my own". "Change My Ways" is a slow, languid blues number featuring Ian's remarkable skills with the harmonica. I've always been a sucker for Gillan's harp playing, irretrievably hooked since hearing "Painted Horse" many years ago. "No Lotion for That" kicks like a back-to-the-roots rocker with a groove that recalls Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis. "Deal With It" slithers and bumps along with a sinister sense of menace as Ian tells a story about being confronted by the threat of personal violence. Gillan tells a story like nobody else and as occasional notes from an acoustic guitar ring through with beautiful clarity, electric guitars howl and growl in the background like menacing dogs hiding in a dark back alley. Notably, frequent Gillan co-conspirator, Steve Morris, plays all the instruments on this one. Casual, loose, and carefree, sweet slide guitar and Jamaican reggae rhythms are the backdrop for the incredible "Girl Goes to Show". This heavenly little diversion takes me to beach on a Caribbean island watching the sun set over the sea with a drink in my hand while "Don't Stop" delivers me to a cozy plaza in Spain with the vague sound of Spanish flamenco guitar ringing out in the sweet, scented air.
Simultaneously carefree, easy, fun, and thoughtful, One Eye to Morocco is an album that is a sweet romantic diversion, offering intimate and personal glimpses of Ian Gillan as both an artist and a man. This is easily his best effort since Accidentally on Purpose, his collaboration with Roger Glover, and possibly surpasses even that. Eclectic and adventurous, this album showcases Ian's potency as a musician and artist in his own right, confirming what his friends and fans have known all along; the man is a potent force in music, a king among rock stars, and One Eye to Morocco stands as the premiere jewel adorning his already-remarkable crown. The man is a treasure and if you miss this masterpiece, you do so at your own peril!
Brent A. Soileau
Deep Purple Hub