Before getting into the meat of this review, I have to make a confession…I am a little biased where Joe Bonamassa is concerned. I own, on CD, everything the guy has ever produced. From his mainstream debut in the short-lived Bloodline, through his extensive solo canon, his Rock Candy Funk Party stuff (although this isn’t played regularly), his BCC and Beth Hart collaborations, and I even bought a Sandi Thom album where he played on two tracks…he was romantically attached to her at the time, and their version of Need Your Love So Bad is actually very good. There is no point going over his story once again…the man is well known through his multiple releases and his formidable marketing machine. (Yes, I succumb regularly to that and have quite a few JB mugs, t-shirts and pick (or plectrums (plectra?)) tins although I am currently wondering if the offers surrounding this latest album can be justified…do I need a blanket with the album cover woven in and tassels? Oh well, if you insist!)
The latest release is, of course, the much-trumpeted Live At The Sydney Opera House; a venue that JB has wanted to perform at for a number of years and completes his ‘bucket list’ of stupendous venues alongside the Royal Albert Hall and Vienna Opera House amongst others. Now some may say “do we need another JB live album?”…well, yes we do because this has some never released live versions of songs.
It opens with one of those: This Train is double the length of the studio version and is chock full of JB’s inimitable guitar prowess keyed in by the formidable piano intro of Reese Wynan and then we’re off into chugging train land. JB hits every sweet spot and the solos from him and Reese are just bliss. The horns and backing vocals add depth to the whole thing but the guitar and Hammond are the stars. Mountain Climbing and Drive follow with immaculate and varied renderings of the studio tracks and solos of such quality that I just lie back and listen all the while getting greener with envy that he is so fluid and precise. Expect sufficient differences from the originals to keep you captivated as he uses his slide and pedalboard to great effect (pun intended) and the horns and backing vocals again bring an extra dimension. Next up is a highlight amongst highlights as he does a ten-minute plus version of Love Ain’t A Love Song from Different Shades Of Blue…this just sent me into paroxysms of guitar geekery as he and the band build layer after layer of solid blues into a masterpiece with a superb Hammond solo leading to aforementioned guitar wizardry….moving from gentle picking to volume control play to full-blown power chords…I can’t help being reminded of pre-pixy-boot Blackmore when he used to do his Blues bit live….sheer brilliance. How Deep This River Runs slows the pace and JB delivers a great version of this cleverly crafted slice of blues…the solo, needless to say, is invigorating. Mainline Florida first appeared on his tribute to the British Blues Explosion as he covers Clapton’s 461 Ocean Boulevard version of the George Terry song. It is the most similar to the studio version but, as that was good, then so is this. The solos are different though and both Hammond and guitar are superb as they make a fairly lacklustre song on 461 into a masterwork. The Valley Runs Low and the titular Blues Of Desperation maintain the high quality with the slide and Hammond on the former shiver-inducing and the latter aching with the sorrow and beauty of the story and the slide playing in particular. The set closes with No Good Place For The Lonely and the lilt and swagger suit its placing as the whole band combine to supply a truly great performance. I always loved the chord play and live JB plays it brilliantly as he combines so many techniques to give a controlled and crafted solo to end a concert of quality.
So here we have a master of modern blues demonstrating once again how good he really is in a live setting on every guitar he picks up…I’ll have to wait for my super-deluxe version (complete with tasselled blanket) to discover how many of his vast collection he took with him and used during the recording: I’ll also have to wait for my vinyl version to hear the bonus track Livin’ Easy to see how he transforms this one in a live setting.) This review copy did appear to have the drums a little too high in the mix and the bass too low (Fig is a genius, as is Rhodes and I’d like to hear a bit more of his unique bass attack), but I’m confident that the CD and vinyl will put this right, as they won’t have been compressed. Suffice it to say, this is very worthwhile addition to the collection as JB and the wonderful band behind him make everything seem effortless while filling every second with high-class musicianship. If you like JB; if you like blues on the rocky side; you cannot fail to like this…the audience certainly did, although they will have befitted from JB’s comments and humour between the tracks but, unfortunately, they’ve been edited out.
(Unsurprisingly, given the number of JB albums I have, the iTunes run on track was more JB…Bridge To Better Days from, in my humble, his best live album: Live From Nowhere In Particular which includes a superb cover of Free’s superb Walk in My Shadow)
Joe Bonamassa – Live At The Sydney Opera House – Mascot Label Group
TENdoodle paws out of TEN …
- This Train
- Mountain Climbing
- Love Ain’t A Love Song
- How Deep This River Runs
- Mainline Florida
- The Valley Runs Low
- Blues Of Desperation
- No Good Place For The Lonely
- (Note: vinyl versions have the bonus track Livin’ Easy
Joe Bonamassa: guitars, vocals
Anton Fig: drums
Michael Rhodes: bass
Reese Wynans: keyboards
Paulie Cerra: saxophone
Lee Thornburg: trumpet
Mahalia Barnes, Juanita Tippins, and Gary Pinto: backing vocals