Joe Bonamassa CD
Recorded over two nights in January 2016 at the iconic Carnegie Hall, New York, this double CD finds Mr. Bonamassa and his nine piece band on blistering form. Stripped down songs with new arrangements, spanning his whole career with a few personal favourites thrown in, what could be better? From the first chords, you can tell these were very special evenings, worthy of another live album by the Blues maestro. The evening begins with three songs from Joe's latest album, 'Blues Of Desperation'. First up is 'This Train'. Unintentional or not, it provides the perfect metaphor for this well oiled machine of a band, with the rhythm mirroring the locomotive chugging down the track slowly gaining pace and building to its thunderous conclusion, a wonderful opener. No time to bask in the applause as the more sedate 'Drive' keeps the motion theme alive. An intricate solo and gentle backing vocals from Mahalia Barnes, Juanita Tipping and Gary Pinto give the song a great, laid back feel, capturing the mood of whiling the miles away on a long journey while trying to escape the confines of life. Completing the trio of songs from JB's 2016 album is 'The Valley Runs Low'. A song steeped in the Blues, it feels like a familiar old friend of a song, Joe's voice is on top form, and again, the backing vocals are allowed to shine giving the song a light Gospel feel. Tina Guo on cello adds to the smooth feel of a great arrangement, one of the album's many highlights.
Then it's time for one of the big guns to come out, and although we have heard a version of 'Dust Bowl' very similar to this on 2013's 'Live at the Vienna Opera House' album, it's a class song and obviously a band and crowd favourite.The addition of Eric Bazilian's mandolin gives the song an extra depth, but acoustic or electric, this is the song that Joe will be playing live until he retires. Next up is the title track from the 'Driving Towards The Daylight' album. Never a very heavy song, even in its stripped down form, the whole band is allowed to shine. From the simple opening acoustic guitar, through to the gradually accompanying piano, cello and drums it sounds great with Joe's voice perfectly blending in with the backing singers. Back to the 'Dust Bowl' album for one of its heavier tracks. 'Black Lung Heartache' opens with an unfamiliar guitar solo, however once the instantly recognisable riff kicks in, the song loses none of its power and even features a hurdy gurdy, compliments once again, of the multi-talented Mr. Bazilian.
The equivalent track to 'Black Lung Heartache' on the 'Black Rock' album would have to be 'Blue & Evil', which keeps the more Rocky feel to the album's mid-section going. This version however does not really add anything to the song and for the first time it seems things get a little messy in the middle, even the usually excellent backing vocals seem strangely out of place. A good song, probably not best suited to this format, the first slight disappointment of the opening thirty minutes. Next we are back to the 'Blues of Desperation' album for the final time and 'Livin Easy'. A vintage sounding modern Blues song that JB does so well. The classic theme of a woman who spends your money twice as fast as you can make it, this can truly be described as one of Joe's hidden gems.The saxophone and piano add to the smoky late night feel of this outstanding song. A foot stomping start ushers in 'Get Back My Tomorrow'. A great sing a long chorus, top vocals and piano, with its message of how wasting time (not something Joe could ever be accused of) is a bitter pill to swallow, makes for another gem, this time reworked from the 2014 studio version.
So nine songs in and such is the pace, we finally get our first "good evening" from the man himself, time is simply flying by. Now then, this is where the reviewer has a bit of a dilemma. The live version of 'Mountain Time' on 2008's 'Live From Nowhere In Particular', is, quite simply one of my favourite ever songs by anyone. The closing guitar solo on that track, makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand to attention. Unfortunately, this obviously cannot be replicated with an acoustic guitar, however it's still a truly great song and this new arrangement can't be faulted, with the vocals of Barnes and Tippins adding to its depth, a classic song, whichever style you prefer. It must be time for a cover version, the first of three in fact. The Folk song from the 1920's, 'How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times And Live' has been covered by such luminaries as Ry Cooder and Bruce Springsteen. You can tell Joe loves this song, with his take on it, blending Blues, Folk and Gospel to make this arrangement stand head and shoulder's with all those that have gone before.
Probably the most unexpected inclusion on this album is up next. The Black Country Communion track 'Song Of Yesterday'. Clocking in at over nine minutes, it meanders on pleasantly enough but only really comes to life as it gathers pace in the final section, and as such, breaks the pace of the album unnecessarily, feeling a bit like a filler track. Maybe you just had to be there for this one. Next we head back to 2003 for 'Woke Up Dreaming'. This is truly epic, and could easily be used as a showcase of Mr. Bonamassa's talent. Accompanied by the cello, Joe shows us why he is the premier Blues guitarist of his generation. With all of his arsenal in play including a huge mid-song solo, the crowd laps it up as the song comes to its unstoppable, inevitable conclusion. A masterclass from the master himself.
On the Three Kings tour of 2015, Joe paid tribute to his three heroes (B.B, Albert and Freddie) and on the second cover version of the night, he chooses 'Hummingbird', written by Leon Russell, made famous by B.B. King for another slice of classic Blues. It's a great song, wonderfully played with Reese Wynans on piano complementing Joe's guitar beautifully.
"Thank you very much and goodnight" - surely that can't be it and of course it isn't - there is always time for one more song. An encore of 'The Rose' is as unexpected as it is welcome, even the purists who are sure the Bette Midler rendition is the definitive version of the song would have to admit this is pretty special. Joe's voice has rarely sounded as good, accompanied by a understated piano at the start, before the rest of the band come in, to close the album with a real touch of class.
These must have been two truly wonderful New York evenings. Having been lucky enough to see Joe Bonamassa on a few occasions, but only ever in a Rock/Blues context, this CD highlights two shows I would've loved to have attended. If anyone wants to know who today's guitar heroes are, they need look no further than his considerable back catalogue. My old Dad always tell me repeatedly "None of today's so called stars can really play their instruments". Wisdom obviously doesn't always come with age and JB is the living proof. A CD I would highly recommend to anyone who loves guitar, Blues and exceptional musicianship.