Thursday, August 25, 2016

Joe Bonamassa - Had To Cry Today (2004)

1. Never Make Your Move Too Soon
2. Travellin' South
3. Junction 61
4. Reconsider Baby
5. Around The Bend
6. Revenge Of The 10 Gallon Hat
7. When She Dances
8. Had To Cry Today
9. The River
10. When The Sun Goes Down
11. Faux Mantini

Although Joe's previous album distinguishes itself as "the blues album" (not that that doesn't describe over half his discography!), I like to think of this as Blues Deluxe 2. The balance is tipped more towards original songs than blues covers this time, but there are a lot of similarities that can be drawn between these two albums (starting with the fact that they both open with a B.B. King cover - which I think is pretty cool), and they seem to fit into the same more or less indistinguishable groove in my mind. Which is not a bad thing - Blues Deluxe was a good album, and so too is Had To Cry Today. Both albums were named for their British blues rock covers; this album venerates another of Joe's biggest influences - Eric Clapton, via the short-lived supergroup Blind Faith. By direct comparison, Had To Cry Today may not cook as hot as Blues Deluxe, but it's a great rock n roll jam, and still one of the standout tracks on this album, as well as among Joe's early period classic rock covers.

And the praise doesn't stop there. I already mentioned The River in my last review, which Joe would pair up with Burning Hell in concerts around this time - this was, for me, one of the highlights of Joe's early live shows. The River starts out with a quiet acoustic part, before breaking out into full electric mode, complete with slide guitar and harmonica (think Led Zeppelin's When The Levee Breaks). And then there's Reconsider Baby, a searing cover of a slow blues by Lowell Fulson, also featuring another great vocal performance by Joe. I'm surprised this track hasn't gotten more attention - it's always been one of my early favorites from Joe's discography. It's the first song in Joe's catalogue that really sounds "modern" to my ears (from this point forward, the music begins to sound more and more like the Joe I know from his more contemporary material). He's put out more than his fair share of guitar-heavy slow blues (which is alright by me, as that's my favorite kind of blues), and it may be that it gets to a point later on when there are too many to keep track of, but at this point, this song stands out like a beacon on the album, as a testament to the depth of emotion that fuels the blues in its finest moments.

Continuing with the comparisons to Blues Deluxe, Around The Bend seems to follow in the footsteps of I Don't Live Anywhere, with another statement on Joe's roadbound lifestyle ("I'll go down any road there is, to see what's around the bend"). And Faux Mantini could well be the spiritual successor to Woke Up Dreaming, falling firmly in the camp that features fancy acoustic fretwork. When She Dances is a sweet ballad ("when she dances, I see where my only chance is") that fashions itself as the Wonderful Tonight of Joe's catalogue (minus the arguably overrated popularity that the Clapton track courts), and reminds me of Neil Young's When You Dance You Can Really Love (thematically, if not strictly musically). Travellin' South (another Albert Collins cover) is a rollicking rocker, Revenge of the 10 Gallon Hat (with its almost country flavor) would seem to pioneer Joe's habit of recording musically interesting (yet arguably filler) tracks with goofy names, and the upbeat, mostly acoustic When The Sun Goes Down keeps the slide guitar and harmonica of The River going for just a little bit longer. All of these tracks come together to create an enjoyable listening experience, crafted by an artist who was - as history would show - on the verge of entering a new phase of his career.

Rating: Occasional Spin

Friday, August 19, 2016

Joe Bonamassa - Blues Deluxe (2003)

1. You Upset Me Baby
2. Burning Hell
3. Blues Deluxe
4. Man Of Many Words
5. Woke Up Dreaming
6. I Don't Live Anywhere
7. Wild About You Baby
8. Long Distance Blues
9. Pack It Up
10. Left Overs
11. Walking Blues
12. Mumbling Word

Going back and listening through Joe's discography in chronological order is fascinating. On his first album he sounds like the new kid on the block, going head to head with every other guitar virtuoso in town (and coming out in front). On his second album he tries out a more mainstream, pop(-ish) sound, so that by the time you get to Blues Deluxe - an album filled with blues covers to celebrate "the year of the blues" - it's a refreshing reminder of what Joe is all about - playing the blues. And while Joe has always been into experimenting with how far he can stretch the limitations of the blues format, this is going straight to the root of what the blues is. And he needed this - before pushing the blues into new frontiers, he had to establish a base of operations - a control variable, if you will.

And it doesn't get much more traditional than this. Featuring covers of songs by no less than B.B. King, Freddie King, Albert Collins, Robert Johnson, Buddy Guy, John Lee Hooker, Elmore James, and T-Bone Walker, this is a great record to spin if you love the blues - even if the fact that it's a little more eclectic, and features a few slower and/or acoustic tracks, means I don't listen to it quite as often as A New Day Yesterday. The title track - a cover of a song recorded by Jeff Beck and Rod Stewart, of all people (British blues represent!) - is the clear standout, with not only a scorching guitar part, but a remarkable vocal performance, marking the first moment it became clear that Joe Bonamassa was serious about improving his singing (I remember this song distinctly from the first time I saw Joe in concert, in a small, repurposed movie theater).

I'm also a fan of the John Lee Hooker cover, Burning Hell, featuring a mean slide guitar and harmonica accompaniment, which Joe had a habit of slinging together with the song The River from his next album, during concerts from this era. Woke Up Dreaming is a great acoustic showcase (it's basically Joe saying, "I don't always play acoustic guitar, but when I do, I play the shit out of it"), although once you've heard Joe play this one live, you'll feel like the studio version cuts off short. Another of the few original tracks on this album, I Don't Live Anywhere is the first in a series of softer, slower ballads that Joe will record. It's another great showcase for his singing, and could well be Joe "Always On The Road" Bonamassa's theme song - "I don't live anywhere, I live everywhere; this road is my home."

I would rate Long Distance Blues - a slow, mournful blues penned by T-Bone Walker, who wrote Stormy Monday - one of the premier unsung "deep cuts" in Joe Bonamassa's catalogue, but at under four minutes, it unfortunately doesn't stick around long enough to make a better case for itself. The rest of the album consists of slightly less memorable tracks, that are nevertheless still perfectly solid songs to fill out the album. And it's fun to hear Joe play in more or less the styles of different blues legends - which, incidentally, is the subject of some of his recent concerts. I've read that Blues Deluxe is one of Joe's fan-favorite, best-selling albums - and it's understandable: the blues is popular (in its own way). I may not rate it one of my top favorites, but it's definitely in the upper half, and it's a good early representation of what Joe is all about.

Rating: Occasional Spin

Friday, August 12, 2016

Joe Bonamassa - So, It's Like That (2002)

1. My Mistake
2. Lie #1
3. No Slack
4. Unbroken
5. So, It's Like That
6. Waiting For Me
7. Never Say Goodbye
8. Mountain Time
9. Pain And Sorrow
10. Takin' The Hit
11. Under The Radar
12. Sick In Love
13. The Hard Way

This is perhaps most likely to be rated as the worst album in Joe Bonamassa's discrography - although I don't dislike listening to it, and it might not by my least favorite. But even Joe himself, on his former weekly podcast The Pickup, once mentioned that he likes to use this disc as a coaster for his drinks. It's his sophomore album, and it's a drastic change from his debut, with more of a mainstream, pop-oriented sound (relatively speaking - if it's "pop", it's still guitar-heavy blues pop). No doubt, this was before Joe figured out his business model, and realized he could be successful just playing what he loved.

As such, it's an interesting - if largely forgettable - experiment in a career that has thrived on Joe's willingness to push the boundaries of the blues. I think it's fascinating to contrast this album of all original songs with Joe's more recent turn towards songwriting. This album proves that in his early years, Joe was a stronger cover artist - although he is beginning to prove that wrong now, with the maturity and sophistication he's earned over the more than ten years since this album was released. But I think it's fairly safe to say that, back in 2002, his attempt to break into the songwriting business was largely a failure.

That having been said, there are a couple of notable tracks on this album - diamonds in the rough, if you will. The highlight for me is the long, jamming Pain And Sorrow, which has a long buildup, and almost sounds like prog rock. Takin' The Hit is another good track, a straight-up hard rocker that Joe used to good effect as a set opener in concerts around that time (including the first time I saw him live). One could be forgiven for forgetting that this album also features the studio version of Mountain Time - which would go on to become one of the highlights of Joe's live show. But like Ten Years After's I Can't Keep From Crying Sometimes, the studio version pales significantly to the majesty of its live alternative.

So, It's Like That is probably the most traditionally bluesy song on the album, yet it distinguishes itself mostly by being one of the few title tracks in Joe's discography that is not one of the clear standouts on the album of its name. Sadly, it falls into step with a long list of samey, mediocre tracks that are hard to differentiate and make little impression on the listener. Nevertheless, some of the lyrics are genuinely fun ("you said you weren't a good liar - that was lie number one"), and a couple of the tracks - like Sick In Love, and The Hard Way, which opens with a riff that is suspiciously reminiscent of Mountain Climbing, from Joe's current latest album - swing fairly hard. And there's a hidden bonus track that, despite sounding almost like rap, is actually very good. So, all in all, if it's not one of Joe's best albums, I wouldn't call it a painful listening experience, either.

Rating: Rare Spin

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Joe Bonamassa - A New Day Yesterday (2001)

Note: I'm going to combine Joe's debut album with its live companion together in this review, since they contain very similar tracklists.

1. Cradle Rock
2. Walk In My Shadows
3. A New Day Yesterday
4. I Know Where I Belong
5. Miss You, Hate You [Rock Radio Remix]
6. Nuthin' I Wouldn't Do (For A Woman Like You)
7. Colour And Shape
8. Headaches To Heartbreaks
9. Trouble Waiting
10. If Heartaches Were Nickels
11. Current Situation
12. Don't Burn Down That Bridge
*13. Miss You, Hate You [Full-Length Version]

1. Jam Intro
2. Cradle Rock
3. Steppin' Out/Rice Pudding
4. A New Day Yesterday
5. Miss You, Hate You
6. Walk In My Shadows
7. I Know Where I Belong
8. Colour And Shape
9. Trouble Waiting
10. If Heartaches Were Nickles
11. Don't Burn Down That Bridge

It's incredible going all the way back to Joe's first album as a solo artist. Surprisingly, it holds up really well, and is still great to put on at loud volumes. Joe's voice is pretty rough - that's one thing that he's improved remarkably over the last 15 years - but his guitar playing is no less exciting. It may be less calculated, but it has all the fire needed to make a guitar fan sit up and take notice. Although the feel of the album is very much in the vein of dime-a-dozen Hendrix/SRV-inspired blues rock guitar virtuosos (and there are a lot of those - not that that's a bad thing), Joe's one-of-a-kind talent manages to shine through (he's truly a guitar savant).

Most of these songs are as good if not better live, as heard on the live companion to this album (simply titled A New Day Yesterday Live). Exceptions to this rule include the extended acoustic outro to Colour and Shape, and the fact that you miss out on the guest spots when you listen to the live album - Joe brought in the likes of Rick Derringer, Leslie West, Gregg Allman, and more to record with him in the studio (how many people have that kind of superstar pull for their debut?). The songs that you won't hear on the live album include Nuthin' I Wouldn't Do (For A Woman Like You), Headaches To Heartbreaks, and Current Situation, each one of them good in their own way.

The highlight of these two albums (studio and live) is Joe's cover of the Jethro Tull song that gives them their name - A New Day Yesterday - the live version of which is so spectacular that it singlehandedly turned me into a Bonamassa fan when I heard it first on Grooveyard Records, prompting me to buy the live album and start my long and ongoing journey following Bonamassa's career. The second highlight would be Joe's cover of the Warren Haynes song If Heartaches Were Nickels, which is a fantastic example of classic, guitar-heavy, slow, sorrowful blues. I'm also very fond of Joe's mashup of Steppin' Out (a song Eric Clapton recorded with John Mayall's Bluesbreakers in the '60s) and Rice Pudding (a Jeff Beck instrumental from the same period) - heard only on the live album.

But if these songs cause the rest to pale in comparison, it's only because of how good they are. I don't think there's a single song on these two albums that I don't enjoy listening to. Even Miss You, Hate You - which sounds like Joe's concession to the record company to produce a single - is fun to sing along with (but skip the radio version; the full length version with extended guitar solo is where it's at). Every one of these songs is worth mentioning, from Joe's cover of Rory Gallagher's Cradle Rock, to Walk In My Shadows, I Know Where I Belong, Trouble Waiting, and the swinging riff of Don't Burn Down That Bridge, which serves as an opportunity for Joe's power trio band to show off in concert, with extended bass and drum solos à la Cream or the Experience.

Rating: Frequent Spin

Monday, August 8, 2016

A Joe Bonamassa Retrospective

So I've recently bought tickets to see Joe Bonamassa in concert (for my fourth time) in the spring, and I was thinking, with my recent work on documenting Joe's greatest hits, how remarkable it is that I could see this guy perform four times, and manage to be an even bigger fan each time, than I was the last time I saw him in concert. Between these greatest hits discs I'm working on, and having a nice long buildup to seeing him in concert in seven months, this seemed like a perfect opportunity for me to go back through his discography and listen to his albums in chronological order. It's true that, as big a fan as I am of Joe Bonamassa, I don't always review his albums as I pick them up right away (and I do usually pick them up right away). Anyway, I think it's better to wait and let them sink in, to acquire some context for them, before you really start to see how they stack up. Like, you could like an album the first time you listen to it, or it could take a few spins for you to really get into it, but it's only after a little bit of time has passed that you learn what your true feelings for an album are. So I'm excited to go back and review each of Joe's albums (to a point, at least - and maybe not all his live albums, since he puts out so many), in the context of his broader discography. I hope you'll be excited to join me!

A New Day Yesterday (2001)
So, It's Like That (2002)
Blues Deluxe (2003)
Had To Cry Today (2004)
You & Me (2006)
Sloe Gin (2007)
Live From Nowhere In Particular (2008)
The Ballad of John Henry (2009)

(Stay tuned for links, and updates to this list!)

Monday, July 11, 2016

Joe Bonamassa - Tour de Force (Abridged)

Since the cat is now out of the bag with respect to my ongoing chronicle of Joe Bonamassa's greatest hits, I figured it'd be a good idea to document my compilation of live tracks from Joe's phenomenal Tour de Force, which I put together a couple of years ago when those live albums/DVDs came out. As a bit of a preface, Joe's always been a hardy touring musician, but lately, with encouragement from record producer and creative collaborator Kevin "Caveman" Shirley (who has worked on records since the '90s by such high-profile bands as Led Zeppelin, Iron Maiden, Journey, and more, and was also Silvertide's producer), he's done some spectacular themed live concerts.

As an example, there's one scheduled for this very month, in which Joe plans to honor three of the seminal legends of the British Blues explosion - Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page. (I'm looking forward to that CD/DVD)! I actually have yet another disc of greatest hits planned to honor Joe's Muddy Wolf (= Muddy Waters + Howlin' Wolf) and 3 Kings (B.B., Albert, and Freddie) tributes (I'm going to call it "Legends of the Blues"), but the one thing currently holding that up is that the 3 Kings concert has yet to be released due to (I hear) a petty complaint from Freddie King's estate (here's to hoping they get that settled, one way or another).

For the Tour de Force, Joe was tasked with performing on four separate nights at four separate classic venues in London, with four separate bands and four separate setlists. (Realistically, there was a little bit of overlap in bands and setlists, especially on the last two nights, but that was inevitable). On the first night, Joe dived back into his early years with a power trio approach at The Borderline club, which was a small affair. Then he put together a horn section for a blues-themed night at the larger Shepherd's Bush Empire. On the third night, he did a straight-up rock show at the legendary Hammersmith Apollo. And on the final night, Joe made his triumphant return to the Royal Albert Hall, with a half acoustic, half electric set.

It should go without saying that I was extremely excited when I heard about this special tour event in 2013. I waited with bated breath for the eventual release of the DVD (because as exciting as that would be, I'm not in any position to spend thousands of dollars to fly across the Atlantic for a concert). The concept of the tour was thrilling enough, but let me tell you, Joe was on fire all four nights. I easily rate it one of the live highlights of his career. I have no doubt that he was nervous, but with his talent, and the consummate professional that he is, he used that to his advantage and poured all of his energy into the music.

I couldn't even wait for the later CD release - I confess that I ripped the audio from the DVDs and started putting together a "best of" abridged version of the tour right away, which I only finalized when the CD came out and I was able to get my hands on the official audio. Each of the four concerts was a two-disc affair, so we're talking about distilling eight discs of high quality material. Needless to say, I ended up with not one but two discs of music. I call them the 'A' and 'B' sets, because each one could potentially stand alone (they both contain songs from all four nights), but I put the best songs on the first disc, and the only slightly less best songs on the second. Here's what I picked:

Joe Bonamassa - Tour de Force (Abridged)

'A' Set

1. Blues Deluxe               {8:38} [Borderline]
2. Pain And Sorrow            {7:54} [Borderline]
3. Midnight Blues             {8:38} [Shepherd's Bush Empire]
4. Chains & Things            {7:36} [Shepherd's Bush Empire]
5. The Great Flood           {10:17} [Shepherd's Bush Empire]
6. Tea For One                {9:43} [Hammersmith Apollo]
7. Sloe Gin                   {8:59} [Hammersmith Apollo]
8. The Ballad of John Henry  {13:13} [Royal Albert Hall]
                      Total: {74:58}

'B' Set

1. The River                  {6:57} [Borderline]
2. Happier Times              {7:53} [Borderline]
3. So Many Roads              {6:25} [Shepherd's Bush Empire]
4. Slow Train                 {6:45} [Shepherd's Bush Empire]
5. Dust Bowl                  {7:12} [Royal Albert Hall]
6. Dislocated Boy             {9:52} [Hammersmith Apollo]
7. Lonesome Road Blues        {4:57} [Hammersmith Apollo]
8. Just Got Paid             {12:25} [Hammersmith Apollo]
9. Django/Mountain Time      {11:44} [Royal Albert Hall]
                      Total: {74:10}

For those of you keeping track at home, here's a reminder of what each of the four nights were:

1st Night: Borderline = Power Trio
2nd Night: Shepherd's Bush Empire = Blues
3rd Night: Hammersmith Apollo = Rock
4th Night: Royal Albert Hall = Acoustic/Electric


Conceptually, I think that the most interesting of these four concerts was the first - the Borderline gig - only because it was the most of a stretch for Joe. Blues, Rock, Acoustic/Electric - these are not only perennial elements of his live show (less so the acoustic, but that's certainly been a thing lately), but represent the kind of shows he's been doing of late. To see him turn back the clock about ten years, and return to the mindspace and musicspace he was in when he was just getting started as a solo artist - the point in his career that turned many of us, myself included, into Bonamassa fans (it was the A New Day Yesterday Live album that accompanied his first studio album - and particularly the title track from it - that turned me into a fan when I first heard it circa 2004 or thereabouts) - was fascinating.

And, true to form, the emphasis in a lot of these songs - performed in a power trio format - is guitar virtuosity. Not so much on the songcrafting, but just busting out stupid ridiculous extended guitar solos à la Cream. No track represents this better than Joe's cover of the Rod Stewart-penned, Jeff Beck-recorded Blues Deluxe. This is one of his best recordings of this song ever. Along with it, I put the slow burning Pain And Sorrow on the 'A' set as well, as it is one of my favorite deep cuts from Joe's early days (a shining beacon hailing from what most would consider his worst album, the sophomore record So It's Like That, recorded during the ill-advised period before he completely rejected the notion that a successful musician is defined by his commercial radio hits).

On the 'B' set, I chose The River, which is a bluesy, slide guitar song with a nice build to it that I've liked ever since seeing Joe perform it on the forgotten Live at Rockpalast concert DVD (advertising for which I don't doubt has been intentionally suppressed due to the venue's habit - as reflected in the way the show is filmed - of putting half-dressed girls on stage to dance while the band plays (not that there's anything wrong with that :p)). Along with it is actually a song from one of Joe's middle period albums (The Ballad of John Henry) - titled Happier Times - which is a bit of a sleeper hit that I never really latched onto until I heard him perform it here at these shows.

Musically, I think I was most looking forward to seeing the Shepherd's Bush Empire gig, just because I'm a huge fan of the blues. And, while I don't generally share Joe's opinion that a good blues band needs a horn section, I'd say their inclusion in this case was tasteful and not overwhelming. The two songs that made it onto my 'B' set are predictable, but excellent demonstrations of Joe's blues rock approach. The first one, So Many Roads, is an earlier cover of a track that was recorded in the '60s by John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, featuring one of my personal favorites, Peter Green, on guitar. The second one is Joe's Slow Train, from his Dust Bowl period, which is a powerhouse rocker that features a very convincing musical emulation of a train starting up. I saw him perform this one live in concert one of the several times I've caught Joe Bonamassa on tour.

The 'A' set features a few even more exciting tracks from this show. First is a cover of (sadly, the now late) Gary Moore (who inherited Peter Green's guitar)'s Midnight Blues. While most people probably remember Gary Moore for his flashy ballad Still Got The Blues (and in this case, with good reason), Midnight Blues is a great, minor key song that perfectly encapsulates the theme of Joe's blues night at the Shepherd's Bush Empire. Following that on the 'A' set is a cover of Chains & Things, one of the most scorching guitar tracks in B.B. King's recorded legacy, and one of those rare cases of finding out a musician you like is covering one of your favorite less popular songs by another artist.

My final pick from this show is another of Joe's mid-period songs, The Great Flood, and another one (like Happier Times) that I didn't latch onto until I heard this concert. But it is now one of my favorite songs that the man performs (although there are a lot of those). I remember watching Joe perform it on the DVD, and wondering what song this was, because it's not one of the ones you immediately recognize when you first listen to it on the album (such as, for example, the title track from the same album, The Ballad of John Henry), and it doesn't have a catchy chorus or anything. But it's very slow, and melancholic, and lures you in to a false sense of security, until, towards the end, it unexpectedly erupts into a searing guitar solo. Rarely have I experienced a better musical rendition of depression followed by anguish, and watching it the first time actually caused my eyes to well up with tears (and I love it when music can touch me like that).

I'll give it to you straight, the last two nights of the Tour de Force aren't all that different, aside from the extended acoustic set at the Royal Albert Hall. But while a couple of acoustic tracks made it onto an early version of this compilation, I ultimately decided that they just aren't interesting enough, to me personally, to take space away from the electric tracks. But if the last two nights are similar, that doesn't mean they aren't spectacular. This is where the mainstays and concert centerpieces come to roost, and the best opportunity on this particular compilation to represent some of Joe's then-newer songs in the live format. To that end, the 'B' set's got Dust Bowl and Dislocated Boy. The former features an impassioned lead with some liquid guitar licks, and the latter, hailing from Joe's Driving Towards the Daylight album, features a maverick keyboard solo by Arlan Schierbaum (if you watch the DVD, you'll note that he stands up on his keyboard while playing during this solo)!

On the 'A' set I threw in a live version of Joe's cover of the Led Zeppelin track Tea For One, featuring Doug Henthorn on guest lead vocals. Joe is an incredible talent of a blues rock guitarist, and he's built a reputation on recording incredible covers of British blues songs, but Led Zeppelin is still rock royalty, and one dares not tread lightly on their legacy, if one expects to be well-respected on one's own merits. Hearing that Joe was going to cover a classic Led Zeppelin track alone is enough to get fans excited, but the somewhat underappreciated Tea For One - a mournful, slow blues - was an inspired choice, and Joe did an amazing job doing justice to the song, effectively conjuring the feel of the original. Even more incredible is the fact that he was able to perform it live in concert, as he did during the Tour de Force at the Hammersmith Apollo.

The other track from the Hammersmith Apollo that I put on the 'A' set was Joe's signature number, a cover that brought new life to a song first recorded by actor/entertainer Tim Curry - Sloe Gin. This song is, in essence, Joe's Stairway To Heaven (as clichéd or pretentious as it may be to say that), and is not only a concert staple, but always a highlight of Joe's live show. On the 'B' set, I ended up throwing in Lonesome Road Blues because, even though it seems like a "filler" song thrown in between greater spectacles, the energy and audacity with which Joe attacks the song is so palpable, and it's a perfect demonstration of the mindset Joe must have been in, completely daunted by the work flow propped up on his shoulders, but tearing through it with no less gusto, like a hungry wolverine.

Finally, closing out each disc, we come to the epic centerpiece songs - the ones that feature extended jams, and regularly exceed ten minutes in length from start to finish. I had to shuffle them about a little bit, due to time constraints, so that at least one of the two that turns up on the 'B' set is good enough to be on the 'A' set. On the other hand, the two that ended up on the 'B' set are also represented on one of my other Joe Bonamassa greatest hits compilations (from a different live album), so if anything, the one that made it onto the 'A' set is probably the most "essential" inclusion of the three. That one is Joe's The Ballad of John Henry, which, if Sloe Gin is Joe's Stairway to Heaven, this would be his Dazed and Confused.

But, speaking of which, one of the two that ended up on the 'B' set is Joe's cover of ZZ Top's Just Got Paid, which features an extended instrumental section in which Joe has taken it upon himself to resurrect the guitar solo from the actual song Dazed and Confused! (I hope this isn't too confusing). Suffice to say, it's awesome. This version comes from the Hammersmith Apollo, whereas the other two songs I've been talking about in these two paragraphs both come from the final night at the Royal Albert Hall. The last song I have yet to name, and the last song on the 'B' set, is the medley of Django/Mountain Time, the latter part of which is a pretty song that's long been one of Joe's concert highlights, that builds up to a crescendo, and is a nice way to end the compilation.

Altogether, this is two discs (or if you're really pressed for time, you could squeeze it down to just the first one - although I wouldn't recommend it) of incredible music, and some of Joe's best live performances ever recorded. To date, that is - as he is ever producing more material, in the studio and on the stage, and at an almost inhuman pace. But what may come in the future, no matter how good it might be, won't change the quality of what we've got right here, collected for posterity (and a damn good, rocking time)!

Friday, July 8, 2016

Black Country Compilation

For context, read the preface here.

It's a testament to how good this band is that I had a really hard time picking and choosing the best tracks to put on this compilation. Throughout their entire discography - which only spans three studio albums and one incredible live album - there are really very few tracks that feel like filler. The band is consistently firing on all cylinders. It would be extremely pretentious of me to compare this band to Led Zeppelin, but...well, I'll just leave that right there. -_^

Lol, anyway... Joe Bonamassa is on fire in this band, with myriad scorching guitar tracks. (Although, ironically - barring one or two exceptions - I tend to prefer him as lead guitarist to singer/songwriter - that's what his solo career is for!). Glenn Hughes is just an incredible rock singer (slash bassist), and he really brings it to every single track. Jason Bonham lays down a solid rhythm on the drums, with plenty of flair sprinkled over top - he's his father's son, there's no doubt of that. And while the keyboards are tastefully restrained throughout most of this music (too much keyboard can easily water down the sound of a hard rocking band - although considering Glenn Hughes' tenure in Deep Purple, one of the best and hardest rocking bands that featured a virtuoso keyboard player, I'm sure they knew what they were doing), Derek Sherinian adds a welcome rhythmic accompaniment to the rest of the music, and even takes a rare moment to shine here and there. Altogether, these four incredible musicians had a fantastic musical chemistry, and even though the band didn't stick around for long (albeit longer than some bands do - I'm looking at you, Silvertide), they left a fantastic recorded legacy.

Case in point - the trouble I had picking out songs for this compilation. Frequently - and to my surprise - I found myself ousting tracks that I would have thought were shoe-ins, because they feature some of the catchiest choruses (e.g., One Last Soul, Medusa, Man In The Middle, Smokestack Woman, I Can See Your Spirit, Cry Freedom, and the list just goes on). On another person's compilation - or perhaps even an official "greatest hits" package - these tracks might certainly have made the cut. But I opted less for the catchy radio hits, and more for the sort of hard-lined tracks that I feel represent the band at their absolute finest. But if there's a lesson to be learned, it's that this band brought their A game to every single track.

Oh, the incredible guitar solos I had to cut out (I'm looking at you, Common Man)! If you're so inclined, I would absolutely recommend you just go out and buy the band's entire discography - you won't regret it. I want to say that the first album is their strongest, but that might just be because it was my introduction to the band - it made the biggest impression on me, and is probably the one I've listened to the most times. But their second studio album is also fantastic, with a lot more great songs. Their last studio album is slightly less memorable, but it still features some fantastic music. And if you like live albums, you will not be disappointed by this band's. Like all of the best hard rocking bands, these guys were at their finest in a live setting. On the DVD, you can even watch them perform many of their greatest songs, some with extended jams. Don't miss their rendition of The Ballad of John Henry from Joe's solo career (a great choice for this band), and also their rollicking encore of Deep Purple's Burn.

Black Country Compilation (all songs by Black Country Communion)

 1. Black Country             3:15 {1}
 2. The Great Divide          4:45 {1}
 3. Beggarman                 4:51 {1}
 4. Save Me                   7:42 {2}
 5. Little Secret             6:59 {2}
 6. Cold                      6:55 {2}
 7. Midnight Sun              5:17 {3}
 8. The Circle                7:01 {3}
 9. Song of Yesterday (Live)  9:11 {Live}
10. Sista Jane (Live)         7:44 {Live}
11. Too Late For The Sun     11:21 {1}
                (Total Time) 75:01


The first three tracks hail from Black Country Communion's self-titled debut album, released in 2010. I had the most trouble culling tracks from this album (as you'll see, I managed to sneak in a few more later). These three are probably the tip top. The first one, Black Country, opens the album, and is the perfect introduction and mission statement for the band (which was originally just going to be called Black Country, until there was a conflict with another band of that name). "I am a messenger; this is my prophecy: I'm going back - to the black country." The Great Divide is one of their best straight-up hard-rocking tracks. And Beggarman is a fun, catchy song with an incendiary guitar part. You have to love the way it opens with Joe just fooling around on guitar in the studio, and going right into the song. They did a good job duplicating this effect in concert, but it's impossible to copy the serendipity of the original.

The next three tracks hail from BCC's second album, simply titled 2, which was released in the following year. It was a little bit easier to pick out the standout tracks on this album, but that's not to say that the ones that didn't make the cut aren't really good. The ones that did are a little bit slower (but not necessarily any softer) and a little bit longer than the ones we heard from the first album. The lyrical material is also a little bit heavier. Save Me conjures an image of a man on a ledge, just crying out for a reason not to leap. And Cold, as Glenn does a good job of explaining on the live album, is a song about the friends we've lost, that we never had a chance to say goodbye to. I like the way it depicts the profound incredulity of being faced with the stark reality of death. "The sky is falling, now that you're growing old. And I feel I'm dying - how can you be so cold?" The song that's sandwiched between them, Little Secret, is one of Joe's best and bluesiest performances with the band.

We skip over the live album for the moment (with good reason, as you'll see), and jump ahead to BCC's third and final studio album, Afterglow - both of these were released in 2012. While this album isn't as strong as the previous two, it's still a solid album from start to finish, and it was the hardest one for me to pick out the standout tracks. The Circle was the only easy choice. "I'm in the middle of a dream - I just don't know what it means. I am at war with my fear, and I'm lost in the circle again." I wavered between Common Man and Midnight Sun, but while Common Man has an incredible ending guitar solo, I like Midnight Sun as a song overall a little bit better. Plus, it's still got some great guitar parts, and it's also a really great opportunity for Derek Sherinian to show off his keyboards.

The next two tracks come from the live album, Live Over Europe. It's a double album, with a lot of great material, so I really went ascetic on this one. I wanted to limit myself to tracks that could be considered both some of the highlights of the live show, and also songs that benefited from the live atmosphere, and are an improvement over their studio counterparts. In a lot of cases, I preferred the purity of the studio versions. That having been said, the live versions of Save Me and Cold are both fantastic, and I could easily have switched them out for their studio versions here. The ones I picked, however - Song of Yesterday, and Sista Jane - fulfill both of my conditions. Plus, they gave me an excuse to fit a couple more songs from the first album on this compilation.

But don't complain - both songs absolutely deserve to be on this disc - and their live versions are incredible. And they serve still yet another purpose, too - by bringing us back into the mindset of the first album, they pave the way for the closing track, Too Late For The Sun. Along with Little Secret, this is one of the tracks I discovered in creating this compilation that I hadn't realized were so good previously. This is a long, jamming track - when the last verse gives way to the instrumental outro, the song isn't even halfway over yet! - and my favorite choice to close the disc. You might note that this compilation both starts and ends with the opening and closing tracks of the band's first album, but again, that just goes to show. Still, don't let that be an excuse to ignore the rest of this band's output. (I'm sure no two BCC fans would agree on which songs belong on this compilation!).