Joe Bonamassa

2021

Joe Bonamassa ROYAL TEA.jpg

You’ve just shelled out for the studio album of the same name, so why would you want to get the live album as well? The answer is simple - it’s not only a terrific live album in its own right but, in my view, far superior to the studio album. The accompanying DVD is beautifully shot, and despite being filmed in an empty auditorium filled with 2,000 cardboard cut-outs, manages to recreate the visceral excitement of a live gig far better than most concert footage.

The band absolutely cooks throughout, helped in no small measure by the addition for this show of seasoned Nashville guitarist Rob McNelly, with the result that each track has a double helping of powerful, crunchy and gritty playing. The pair’s guitar work on 'Conversation with Alice', ending with them playing extended harmony lines together makes this a modern guitar anthem, a guaranteed YouTube favourite for sure.

The studio songs take on a whole new dimension in the live setting, driven along by the seemingly effortless but gargantuan drum sound of Greg Morrow, another addition for this set. I don’t think there are any better backing vocalists pairing than Jade MacRae and Danielle De Andrea anywhere, both soloists in their own right, their perfect, full-tilt high harmonies are a real feature, lifting the live versions into a different sphere.

Veteran harp player Jimmy Hall guests on a couple of numbers, adding another facet to the sound, filling out 'Look Out Man' and 'Lonely Boy' and changing the dynamic. The songs from the studio album just sound better played live; the album is full of licks, killer riffs and melodic fills, and these are filled out and extended by the twin guitar attack. Bonamassa’s soloing seems to have an extra level of blistering, focused intensity. Reece Wynan’s accompaniment and soloing on organ and piano is as superb as usual, particularly his solo on 'Lonely Boy', a lightweight song that takes on a heavyweight feel here (and also features some brilliant soloing from Messrs McNelly & Bonamassa).

One song that especially benefits from a different live arrangement is 'Beyond the Silence'. McNelly plays a beautiful ascending run on the introduction and between verses that sounds like a bubbling synthesiser. It changes the feel of the song entirely. This is one of the weakest songs on the album but, here, becomes a powerhouse.

The set ends with three covers from the recently revamped 'A New Day Yesterday': Rory Gallagher’s 'Cradle Rock', Free’s 'Walk In My Shadow' and Tull’s 'A New Day Yesterday'. This is Bonamassa doing what he does best, blasting out modern Blues classics with a level of absolute commitment and technical prowess that is unequalled. These are mesmerising versions, sparkling with energy and brilliant ensemble playing. I’m not sure it gets any better than is. An essential addition to your collection.

Simon Green