By Shereen Siewert

Southern blues man Eric Gales is back with his 16th album, though he’s collaborated on many others. Once a child prodigy who released his first album at age 16, Gales is a true professional in the blues genre.

The 11 tracks on Middle of the Road run 55 minutes, and they are a revelation. The sound quality, production, and mix are fresh, with an almost sparkling clarity. The backing vocals by LaDonna Gales are a transcendent backdrop draped throughout this musical masterstroke.

There are times when addiction has been an unwelcome partner of Gales, who did time in 2009 at the Shelby County Correction Center on drug and weapons charges. That was a time in which Gales regained, during his detention, the will to be not just a better person but also to learn to focus on his enormous talent as a musician. And the new album feels like a new beginning, both mentally and spiritually.

In addition to Aaron Haggerty on drums, Dylan Wiggins on B3 organ, Maxwell “Wizard” Drummey-Mellotron on Repetition, Gales provides all lead vocals, guitar and bass. His wife, LaDonna, offers up all backing vocals, and they are tremendous. The guests on the album, including Gary Clark Jr., Lance Lopez and others, round out the sound.

One of the best tracks is “Good Time,” a gospel-style blues song with a classic structure that epitomizes the southern blues style that Gales not only personifies, but has helped shape over the years. “Carry Yourself,” a song Gales wrote about his wife, lays down the funk, while “Been So Long” has almost a ska-type style that speaks to the desire in all of us to be at the place we call home. And “Help Yourself” features the young guitar Jedi knight Christone “Kingfish” Ingram. This is a truly deep cut; rocking, bluesy, percolating, and just a great listen.

Eric Gales is one of those very rare musicians able to leave their own stamp on anything they play or sing, thanks to his unique performing style, a skill that just the greatest artists in the world possess. Released in February, this album hit Inner Sleeve CDs and Records on March 31. If you’re a blues fan, you’ll want to bring this one home as soon as you can.

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