The Sleep Eazys
his collection of instrumental songs from the super prolific, making everyone else look like complete slackers, Mr. Joe Bonamassa, under yet another musical nom de plume, is described by him as being a tribute to his mentor Danny Gatton. With only the opening track ‘Fun House’ being by that fretboard wizard, it looks more the case of being a tribute to a number of mostly departed sensational guitarists, who are more or less well known among afficionados and guitar nuts, but mostly overlooked by the general public.
On this subject, I often ask colleagues at work whether they’ve heard of Joe B, and it’s about one in twenty, if that, who have. Given his superstar status in the Blues world, yet lack of impact on the popular world of music, it’s no surprise that some of the other guitarists that inspired these numbers have been forgotten. Using his current touring band, it’s clear that this must have been a labour of love as well as lot of fun. It’s an eclectic collection made up of quite obscure cuts from guitar instrumentalists on one hand and a mixture of theme tunes on the other.
What they have in common is that they are all cracking tunes that you would enjoy if played down your local pub; the likelihood of that happening, given the complexity of some of these is, however, fairly remote (although most guitarists would want to have a crack at ‘Ace of Spades’ for fun). The combination of great tunes and the supremely tasteful playing of Bonamassa, not to mention his fabulous band, make this a really enjoyable collection.
Opening track ‘Fun House’ is probably my least favourite on the album; I had the same reaction when I bought a Danny Gatton collection having long read about his guitar mastery; namely disappointment (before I got to the amazing Rockabilly numbers). The combination of Melodic Jazz and Country Rock playing should be a knock out, but while skilful and played (both the original and this cover) with great verve and energy, sounds a bit too lounge band and self-indulgent for my tastes. ‘Move’ by Hank Garland is another jazzy number with super quick Jazz lines played in unison by the guitar and organ; Reese Wynans features heavily and Joe throws out a couple of solos to show off his nifty jazz chops, the first being a Django style, gypsy Jazz nimble fingered effort.
Link Wray’s ‘Ace of Spades’ rocks out as powerfully as you might expect with horns adding to the blockbuster effect. This is the sort of short, sharp number that would sound fab thrown into a live set as an opener. ‘Ha So’ from a guitarist I hadn’t come across, Jimmy Bryant, kicks off with a corny oriental theme before rocking along with a sensational guitar motif and features some insanely good Rockabilly riffs and soloing from the maestro. ‘Hawaiian Eye’ the theme tune from an American TV series that showed in the States between 1959-63 (completely unknown here unless you’re a surf geek) maintains the tempo as guitar and horns pound out the main riff. This is a real blast and if you check out the weedy original theme on YouTube you can see that the band have injected this with nitro to great effect.
‘Bond (Her Majesty’s Secret Service)’ is a song I could listen to on constant repeat; the main Bond theme played on descending power chords is stunning and the superb John Barry melodies are played at full tilt with some fabulous guitar work. The backing vocals are quite exceptional on this, as they are on following number, Tony Joe White’s ‘Polk Salad Annie’, which I’m sure is included as a tribute to James Burton’s stylish playing on the Elvis version. The album closes with two chilled instrumentals, ‘Blue Nocturne’, a King Curtis B-side (to ‘Soul Stew’) from 1967, which is a pretty deep cut and has some lovely soloing from Joe, ending with ‘It Was a Very Good Year’, a hit for Frank Sinatra, written by successful songwriter Ervin Drake, which I’m sure was selected for no other reason than because it’s a lovely tune and the bandleader fancied playing some single note acoustic guitar (before switching into some fat, warm toned electric playing).
Fans of Bonamassa are going to lap this up and, given the overall quality of the songs and the powerful arrangements, it should appeal to pretty much anyone that enjoys melodic music played with passion. Well done also for reviving a dying genre, the guitar instrumental album!