Joanne Shaw Taylor

Tuesday 26th April 2022

Shepherd's Bush Empire

I warmed up for this gig by having a first listen to ‘The Blues Album’, a collection of cover versions which Joanne had long been promising herself that she’d record when the time was right. It turned out that lockdown was that time and, with Joe Bonamassa and Josh Smith as producers, she has created an album of the year contender. The first half of the 90 minute set on the current tour is devoted to this album, with the second half comprising favourites from Joanne’s already extensive back catalogue.

Indeed, the first four songs in the set are also the first four songs on ‘The Blues Album’ and we hit the ground running with ‘Stop Messin’ Round’, which was written by Peter Green (with his manager Clifford Adams) for Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Mr. Wonderful’ album on Blue Horizon back in 1968. Having warmed her fingers up on that one, Joanne showcased her voice on Little Milton’s ‘If That Ain’t A Reason’. At (an admittedly very youthful looking) 37 years old, there is now a real depth and maturity to her voice which is so necessary to do full justice to these Blues classics; I don’t think the new album could have sounded quite as convincing a decade ago and it vindicates Joanne’s decision to wait until the time felt right.

Otis Rush’s ‘Keep On Lovin’ Me’ led us into ‘If You Gotta Make A Fool Of Somebody’, which is most often associated with Aretha Franklin; the latter introduced us to rhythm guitarist Michael Bradford. Both he and bassist Steve Lehane are natives of Detroit (although MB is now based in Los Angeles) and both have extensive production credits to their names.

If there’s a Blues guitarist closer to my heart than Otis Rush, it has to be Albert King, whose ‘Can’t You See What You’re Doing To Me’ was next up for a thorough workout (although Joanne didn’t smoke a pipe during her solo, like Albert used to!). A brief lecture on why we shouldn’t tolerate unfaithful partners introduced the Fabulous Thunderbirds’ ‘Two Time My Lovin’, before a lovely version of ‘Let Me Down Easy’, another Little Milton song which is also heavily associated with Bettye LaVette. The last of the songs from the new album was Don Covay’s ‘Three Time Loser’.

I was slightly worried about how the second half of the set might stack up against all these classic songs, but, if anything, Joanne’s soloing got even stronger as the night progressed. Drummer James Edmunds introduction on the rim of his snare drum ushered in ‘Dyin’ To Know’, the opening track from ‘Wild’ (2016), and away we went again!

After ‘Just Another Word’ from ‘White Sugar’ (2013) it was time for Junior, the ’66 Fender Esquire, which has been Joanne’s main instrument since she was only 15, to have a brief rest; the next couple of songs were played on what looked to me to be a Gibson Les Paul with a cherry finish (although I’m confident that the guitarheads out there may soon correct me!).

After the earlier burst of Otis Rush, we were treated to a nod in the direction of Otis Redding with ‘I’ve Been Loving You Too Long’ from ‘Reckless Heart’ (2019); you need both confidence and a damned good voice to pull off any song associated with Otis Redding and Joanne absolutely nailed it. Another dip into ‘White Sugar’ brought forth ‘Watch ‘Em Burn’, on which Joanne really stretched out during her solo.

From her longest solo to perhaps her Bluesiest, as ‘Time Has Come’ (also from ‘White Sugar’) also featured some fine Hammond organ work from Dorian Ford, who, like James, is London based. Joanne really had the wind in her sails by this time, reeling off long solos as easily as shelling peas; she wound her performance up with the trio of ‘Mud Honey’ (‘The Dirty Truth’, 2014), ‘Bad Love’ (‘Reckless Heart’) and finally ‘Going Home’, which started life as ‘White Sugar’s opening track, but has since become a popular set closer.

I have caught most of Joanne’s London shows over the past decade or so and her playing seems to improve with each visit; indeed, her instrumental prowess may be one reason why her voice has been rather underrated by comparison, but that should soon change on the evidence of this latest album and tour.

Although this tour has been a fairly brief one, the good news is that you can relive the experience from June, with the release of the live CD ‘Blues From The Heart Live’ which includes film of the same concert (with guest appearances by Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Joe Bonamassa) on a choice of DVD or Blu Ray. Enjoy!

Setlist:

Stop Messin’ Round; If That Ain’t A Reason; Keep On Lovin’ Me; If You Gotta Make A Fool Of Somebody; Can’t You See What You’re Doing To Me; Two Time My Lovin’; Let Me Down Easy; Three Time Loser; Dyin’ To Know; Just Another Word; I’ve Been Lovin’ You Too Long; Watch ‘Em Burn; Time Has Come; Mud Honey; Bad Love; Going Home.

Gary Smith