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)
💿💿 Live From The Royal Albert Hall (2009)

💿 Black Rock (2010)
💿💿💿 Dust Bowl (2011)
💿💿 Beacon Theatre: Live From New York (2012)
💿💿💿 Driving Towards The Daylight (2012)
💿 An Acoustic Evening At The Vienna Opera House (2013)
💿💿💿 Tour de Force (2014)

Different Shades of Blue (2014)
Muddy Wolf At Red Rocks (2015)
Live At Radio City Music Hall (2015)
Blues of Desperation (2016)
Live At The Greek Theatre (2016)
Live At Carnegie Hall - An Acoustic Evening (2017)
British Blues Explosion (2018)
Redemption (2018)

Ratings Guide:
💿 - Rare Spin
💿💿 - Occasional Spin
💿💿💿 - Frequent Spin