by Jim Swanson
Have a listen to a sampling of Joe Bonamassa’s New CD “Black Rock” below. Song Clip Order is as follows: “”Steal Your Heart Away“, “I Know A Place“, “Quarryman’s Lament“, “Three Times A Fool“, “Night Life” (with B.B. King), “Blue and Evil“.
Aside from being one of the nicest, most approachable and caring musicians in today’s music world, guitarist extraordinaire, Joe Bonamassa continues his growth in creativity and pushing the envelope for his fans.
His latest CD release is “Black Rock”, an eclectic album of Blues/Rock recorded at Black Rock Studios (hence the CD’s title) on a tiny island about 200 miles Southeast of Athina, Greece. But don’t let the word eclectic scare you away.
Utilizing Greek musical instruments as well as Greek musicians, Joe pulls off every single cut with loud reckless abandon but very a organized sound.
Teamed once again with Producer Kevin Shirley, Bonamassa stretches both his creativity in his writing (five of the songs are penned by Joe) and his six string prowess to deliver a set that, from beginning to end, stands out as one of the finest albums of the year in any genre.
Plenty of Joe’s brand of Blues and Blues/Rock are there with the Otis Rush classic “Three Times a Fool”; “Night Life”, where he shares both vocals and guitar licks with old pal and living legend, B.B. King; and Leonard Cohen’s “Bird On A Wire”, where Bonamassa makes this classic song his very own. He also winds up owning Jeff Beck’s “Spanish Boots” as well as John Hiatt’s “I Know A Place”.
Bonamassa is also one of the last true artists who put together “an album”. Not just four or five songs that could be singles followed by several “filler songs” just to make the CD length worth the price.
His philosophy on making “albums” was explained to me by Joe during a September 2009 interview I conducted for Blues Boulevard:
“I’m really not a huge fan of listening to a CD that’s kind of put together with maybe three or four really good song and a bunch of filler”, states Joe. “I like to challenge the audience. There’s plenty of room on a CD for a little experimentation and a little self-reflection. (i.e. “Funkier Than A Mosquito’s Tweeter” from “The Ballad of John Henry”) If people don’t dig that particular track, I think there’s enough other good tracks that they can latch on to. And that’s always how I’ve made my records. There’s always a track that’s a little bit outside the box for them, but ultimately you kind of swing for the fences. Sometimes you hit a home run and sometimes you say ‘Uh, we shouldn’t have put that on there.'”
Every cut belongs on this album that flows incredibly well. Fans of Joe’s, as well as new listeners of Bonamassa’s music would do themselves a favor by sitting down and listening to this set from beginning to end. As for sequencing the songs to be entertaining, Joe told me in that same interview that,
“We recorded “The Ballad of John Henry” (title song from his previous album) first, to set the tone for the record. We didn’t just pull songs out of a hat. Hey, ya know what? I don’t care how they listen to it just as long as they dig it. But if I had my choice, I’d prefer they listened to it in the order of which we intended.”
The opening track shows what Bonamassa is about. He hits you first with the Bobby Parker penned “Steal Your Heart Away”, an in-your-face powerhouse tune that, as Joe mentioned, sets the tone for the album.
Later on in the set “Quarryman’s Lament”, one of the five Bonamassa written songs, shows off Joe’s creativity as the song opens with Greek musician Thanasis Vasilopoulos on the nei, a Greek flute-like instrument that is quite reminiscent of Ian Anderson’s (Jethro Tull) playing.
The album’s ebb and flow hits hard with another Bonamassa written song “Blue and Evil” as the opening has Joe on acoustic guitar trading licks with Manolis Karadinis playing bouzouki (think mandolin or Indian instrument sarod), before that traded lick changes to Joe’s trademark Les Paul sound as all hell breaks loose. You can almost visualize Bonamassa playing and sing standing at the gates of Hell with an invitation to “come on in”.
Ending the CD and setting you down easy is a great, joyous and lilting cover of Blind Boy Fuller’s “Baby You Gotta Change Your Mind”.
As for the other musicians on the set, the usual suspects (Joe’s touring band) lend incredible creative cohesion. Carmine Rojas on Bass, Rick Melick on keyboards and Bogie Bowles on drums with appearances by “Late Night with David Letterman” and session ace drummer Anton Fig and, of course, B.B. King.
A strong suggestion for any listener who purchases a copy of “Black Rock” is to buy TWO copies. I guarantee that when you lend one out to a friend, you’ll never see it again.
Jim Swanson is a guitarist and 22 year veteran of radio.