In recent years Don Gallardo has been a regular visitor to the UK. Northern Californian by birth, and a Nashville resident these days, he’s an utterly dependable live performer, usually sprinkling his sets with smart covers, as seems to be second nature to graduates of the East Nashville bar circuit. Usually accompanied by his sparky bassist Travis Stock, he’ll additionally take his pick from the cream of British players; most recently on-fire guitarist Jim Maving, rock solid drummer Steve Brookes, and busy pedal-steeler Joe Harvey-Whyte.
Both his previous albums Hickory and Still Here have been heavy-hitters, and featured some serious players – Mickey Raphael and Randall Bramblett on the former. They’ve also shown a pleasing versatility and the more you listen the more you realise how much he defies easy categorisations. He’ll slip easily between blues, folk, gospel, and rock, while never ceasing to be himself. The original masters of this skill were plying their trade near fifty years ago; you can tell he’s both studied and learned from their example.
In The Name Of Good Intentions is maybe an EP rather than an album but as an entity it’s complete in itself, wide-ranging, and brimful of quality. In its diversity it demonstrates the wide reach of Gallardo’s ambition, hinting to a wide spectrum of paths he might now follow. In giving featured billing to Lilly Winwood, Steve’s daughter, who sings on four songs, he further introduces a singer with no mean voice, and the rest of the players gathered more than do their part.
The opening ‘Rhyder’s Song (Along The Way)’ is dedicated to his young son, close to a devotional song it begins with old-timey fiddle and a pair of voices together, becoming a lesson for life, and a permission and incitement to live that life generously; “you can let your heart along the way”. ‘Shine A Light On Me’ then carries an organic communal vibe straight out of Workingman’s Dead or The Basement Tapes; when he sings “you can make the world delightful” you know there’s only one place that ‘delightful’ came from.
‘How Many Days’ takes him back to the West Coast, heading into Neal Casal and GospelbeacH territory, it’s anthemic with some super organ underpinning and lovely guitar given its head. That’s followed by a way-slowed acoustic reading of ‘Bad Moon Rising’ taking that brisk and brief song to near a three and a half minute mark.
‘The Story Of Tom Paley & The Betsey Trotwood’ is a tale of the road which, for a certain cohort, could stand as a companion song to Danny & The Champions Of The World’s ‘Every Beat Of My Heart’; it actually does name-check another Champs’ song, and a Champ. A chance encounter with Tom Paley gleaned tales of mentoring both Ry Cooder and The Grateful Dead, passed on in a place where that still requires respect, and for Don, clearly precious cargo. The chorus, another singalong; “take me back, take me back, take me back down Farringdon Road”; is one that will surely stick; and “where time stands still, it has no place to go” certainly grasps the essence of the place. Crucially, as with ‘Every Beat Of My Heart’, even if the details mean nothing the song still sounds great.
It’s followed by the primitive gospel of ‘Devil Gonna Come’, before the album concludes with ‘The Wanderer’, another plea for kindness, forming a perfect bookend to ‘Rhyder’s Song’. Both these songs, and really all the rest too, should be understood as commitments to community and decency in a world increasingly in jeopardy from bad actors with bad intentions. In The Name Of Good Intentions for all its relative brevity is a beacon burning brightly, and its rewards will endure.