Sunday, April 19, 2009

Joe Bonamassa - The Ballad of John Henry (2009)

Note: This review was originally posted on a message board forum. I am reposting it here for archival purposes. It has been backdated to the date of its original posting.

So I finally got around to getting Joe Bonamassa's latest album, The Ballad of John Henry, which was released a couple months ago - back in February, if I'm not mistaken. Joe's been releasing a consistent average of about an album a year ever since he initiated his solo career at the top of this decade. And he has yet to record an album I don't like - in fact, the only way I can imagine that happening is if, somewhere along the way, he decides to record a completely acoustic album (but let's not give him any ideas ;p). The Ballad of John Henry is no exception, and is a great addition to Joe's catalog.

The very first listen through, it struck me that there wasn't really a standout track(s) that rose above all the others - for example, the title track on Sloe Gin, or Tea For One on You & Me. However, the album sounded really good (especially at high volume, which Joe repeatedly encourages in the booklet), particularly the guitar tone, and I did notice that there were a lot of great riffs in those songs. I suspect many of these songs will grown on me more and more over time, like Bridge To Better Days and High Water Everywhere have. And really, it's the mark of a great album when the entire album sounds good rather than the good parts being limited to this or that track, right?

There's something to be said for Kevin Shirley's production (who also worked with Led Zeppelin, and Silvertide), and his collaborative relationship with Joe Bonamassa, which has been fostered over the past couple albums they've worked on together, since You & Me. Bonamassa's latest albums, compared to the earlier ones, seem to be sounding better and better, and have been lifting out of the "collection of rock/blues tracks" territory into the more "album masterpiece" realm, and this is very exciting.

I could probably say something about most of the tracks on the album, but just to pick out a few... The opening (as well as title) track, The Ballad of John Henry, sounds great, with a powerful riff; it really kicks off the album. Jockey Full of Bourbon is really cool because it starts out with a little piano part that sounds a lot like that style you hear in old westerns, like in some gunslinging saloon, and then this heavy guitar riff stomps in - it's really cool. Stop!, Last Kiss, Story of a Quarryman, and The Great Flood are all good, rocking songs. There's even a couple of softer pieces, but to my relief, the album never gets too soft for my tastes. In fact, the closing track, As The Crow Flies (which I recall Rory Gallagher previously covering), is kind of acoustic, but it still has a hard electric part!

So, all in all, I think it's a great album, and I'm really excited about it, and even after listening to it a number of times, I'm still excited to listen to it some more. Joey's easily my favorite modern musician, and he's already got a great catalog. If he keeps this kind of material up, he could become as big to me (if not at large) as the classics!

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