It's probably just as well that the guitar hero has largely been supplanted by heros and heroines of the turntable and the mic. Those dazed days of epic soloing and questionable tone needn't be mourned. There's been no death, though, of the six-string hotshot packing self-restraint and ace melodic sense: Doug Gillard (Guided by Voices) and Lindsey Buckingham -- the latter restrained in the studio at least -- are still playing, to name just two. The instrument and its magicians won't fade away any time soon.
But there have been losses. When Rory Gallagher died in 1995, while only in his forties, the music world took a hit. A major talent, Gallagher could count Bob Dylan among his admirers. On record he didn't overplay, and he made his Strat a conduit for real emotion. The intro to "Edged in Blue," from 1976's Calling Card, is one of the most beautiful electric-guitar figures on tape -- it sings. For an essential live document busting with astonishing playing -- curling fire, speed and a blistering, fluid attack -- check out Irish Tour.
Wheels Within Wheels is a fascinating grab-bag of newly discovered material compiled by Rory's brother, Donal Gallagher. Rory Gallagher's template was the blues, but he had diverse tastes; this CD is an opportunity to hear him stretch out in other idioms he liked. In "Flight to Paradise," he duets with classical guitarist Juan Martin for a pretty flamenco run. There's a live interlude featuring Rory and banjo virtuoso Béla Fleck. The gorgeous "Bratacha Dubha" (Gaelic for "black flags") pairs him with English folk revivalist Martin Carthy, and on the album's standout track, "She Moved Thro' the Fair/Ann Cran Ull," he sits in with the master, Bert Jansch, who's probably best known as a member of British folk-rock giants Pentangle. These latter two collaborations in particular yield sweet fruit, heavy on the branch. They leave you wishing Gallagher had recorded more in the same vein and drawn deeper from the ancient well of his own native Celtic tradition. It's good to have this music; here's hoping more like it will surface.