Review of 'One Eye To Morocco' by Jason Hillenburg
God guard me from those thoughts men think
In the mind alone;
He that sings a lasting song
Thinks in a marrow-bone;
From all that makes a wise old man
That can be praised of all;
O what am I that I should not seem
For the song's sake a fool?
I pray - for fashion's word is out
And prayer comes round again
That I may seem, though I die old,
A foolish, passionate man.
- William Butler Yeats, A Prayer For Old Age
Passion is one of the eternal values that can guide a human life and, as we age, these passions can remain undiminished by the passage of time. They abide through the years and give our journey through this life definition that it might otherwise lack. Moreover, our passions are more poignant with age. We nostalgically recall the privileges of youth that have fallen away. We reflect on the beauty of days long past, as well as their victories and defeats. We are haunted, for better and for worse, by an awful sense of impermanence as we grow older and our restless gaze towards the next horizon is our passionate affirmation of life's essential value.
Ian Gillan is a foolish, passionate man. Reaching another peak in his career, I believe the recent years have found Gillan embracing the craft of songwriting with a wholehearted enthusiasm more appropriate to a man in his twenties. There is a boundless sense of curiosity in his voice, a generous surplus of joy, and the sweet melancholy that a well-spent life will provide.
The album kicks off with the title track. "One Eye to Morocco" is a subdued, rhythmic meditation on personal journeys. There are the sights and sounds of the physical world and there is the personal journey through the mind and soul represented here. This journey through "the scented night" is laden with the dreams and obsessions of a lifetime. The slightly exotic feel of the song gives it an additional appeal.
Gillan's vocals are sensitive and probing. He feels his way through the lyric and is makes every effort to invest the words with the openhearted honesty that they deserve. The backing vocals heard in the bridge are a nice touch and he uses them to even greater effect in the chorus. The guitar work is tasty and understated.
The next song, a more traditional rocker entitled "No Lotion for That", has old school rock 'n' roll overtones with its persistent beat and its simplicity. When the song shifts gears in the chorus, it takes on a more modern feel. The song is a rollicking good ride and the instrumental break featuring a brief brass and guitar dual is a highlight. Gillan's vocals are swaggering and confident. The band, feeding off the energy that only a top-shelf singer can bring to a group of musicians, matches Gillan's swagger with an authoritative performance of their own.
The Latin influenced "Don't Stop" is another song about affirmation, among other things. It talks about new challenges to meet, new tomorrows to savor, and new mountains to climb. The irrepressible vigor that the band plays with is airy and free; they play with the fluidity of a crack live unit and achieve a superlative ensemble sound. On that note, it seems appropriate that I take a moment to comment on Nick Blagona's production. The album benefits from a seamless mix - the separation between the instruments is ideal to my ears and the sound achieves a compositional coherence that gives the songs real character. Other songs on this album, quite simple in their construction, gain qualities they would not otherwise have from Blagona's production. The presentation is honest and free from pretension. In stark contrast to others who have produced Deep Purple, Blagona trusts these songs.
Returning to this song, the percussion is strong and, once again, I hear a 50's rock and roll influence creeping into the proceedings. It was obvious from the first note of the first song that these songs are not just one thing. These are songs with many faces. I believe that songs like this and the preceding two would have been far beyond the reach of Gillan of 1973. This is no knock against Gillan, it is merely an assertion that his talent needed the time to develop and mature to produce nuanced songs such as this.
The next track, an up tempo number entitled "Change My Ways", was a track he originally offered to Deep Purple, but the band never recorded it. This song is the one I spoke of earlier that was quite simple In construction, yet it benefits from the production. From the harmonica blast that begins the song to its stray notes that end the tune, "Change My Ways" is almost painfully simple musically but yet is presented in such a way sonically that it compels your attention. It is rooted firmly in the blues tradition and Gillan displays mastery over that style in both his delivery and lyrical content.
"Girl Goes to Show", despite its slinky, attractive groove, is a melancholy tune once again dealing with the ruthless sanction of time, the taste of regret, and memories that have turned to ashes through the years. The song is touching and moving. The musicianship is once again high. Michael Lee Jackson's guitar is wonderful and the rhythm section plays with a relaxed, confident stride that sounds deceptively effortless. Ian's performance on this song is the highlight of the album.
When Gillan sings, "It's another day, you know/So irresponsible/Know what we want/Seems that nothing's impossible/No materials to lose/I don't have to wash my hair/I don't have to wear my shoes", sweet memories overtake me. The combination of his phrasing and the lyrical content is matchless here. This is music with real class, depth, and feeling.
The slow blues burn of "Better Days" conjures images of sad, smoky rooms and the idea of holding onto faith in the future despite the apparent adversities of the present. Regret and hope stand beside each other here and Gillan takes their measure. It is another strong performance; Gillan again brings real feeling and nuance to this vocal.
The next song, "Deal With it", is another high point for the album. It is another moody, heavily stylized piece with a dark edge reflected in the menacing, effects-laden guitar and, in general, how the musical framework of the song seems to swirl in a sea of echo. What the song "deals" with, in a typically funny Gillan tale, are the pressures and stress of life. It is a wry tale full of slapstick and idiosyncratic humor.
"The Ultimate Groove" may not be the ultimate groove, but it is a slinky, sexy treat. Despite its funky leanings, it is largely a straight rock song. Another superior vocal from Gillan elevates this otherwise light-hearted lyric. The smoky ambiance of his voice reminds me of nights that seem to last forever, women who are impossibly beautiful, and the sense of wonder that can often empower us in life.. Musically, it is another amazing performance from the entire band. Once again, Michael Lee Jackson distinguishes himself with some outstanding guitar. Likewise, Rodney Appleby lays down a strong, fluid bass line expertly accented by Howard Wilson's drumming.
"The Sky Is Falling Down" elaborates on many of the album's central themes. When Gillan sings in the chorus "I've got my mind on other things right now", one of those things is certainly eternity. The loyalties of youth have fallen away and Gillan now swears fidelity to the eternal verities; love, friendship, and passion, among others. Of course, the song has other concerns - Gillan refers to social issues in one of the verses with his typical incisive wit on the subject. It is another strong song. The album is really succeeding on every level - the effortless sophistication in the music and its high level of musicianship are just stunning.
While it is considerably lighter than many of the songs on the album, "Texas State of Mind" nonetheless features another excellent band performance. The song, simple in its construction, provides the band with a strong foundation over which they can lay some hot ass guitar licks and piano parts. Jesse O'Brien's piano playing is pivotal for me. Without it, the song would lose a great deal.
There is so much in "It Would Be Nice" that it is hard to encompass it all in a review. The quiet, meditative organ that accompanies Gillan through the first verse works with his hushed vocals to create a powerfully reflective mood. There is also lovely, crystalline acoustic guitar playing which is soothing to hear. When the bridge finally erupts into stomping hard rock, it sounds perfectly natural and the lyrics are sharp and biting. The addition of brass to the song works marvelously. This band, with Gillan at the helm, seems capable of anything.
The finale, "Always The Traveler", is the perfect closer to this album. This elegiac track full of bittersweet regret features yet more impressive guitar work and some wonderfully understated organ in the background. There is a lot going on here - there is humor, love, and pain strewn through the song and these disparate strains share a commonality and, in Gillan's hands, a thoughtful elegance and beauty that Gillan has seldom reached before in his career.
This is the finest record, from beginning to end, that Ian Gillan has ever made as a solo artist. It is a work of passion and life. The experience of living with this album has heightened my respect for Gillan as an artist and as a man. Because, make no mistake, this album affords us the clearest glimpse of Gillan, the individual, that we have ever had on record. This deeply personal album should solidify Gillan's legacy.