Friday, September 2, 2016

Joe Bonamassa - You & Me (2006)

1. High Water Everywhere
2. Bridge To Better Days
3. Asking Around For You
4. So Many Roads
5. I Don't Believe
6. Tamp Em Up Solid
7. Django
8. Tea For One
9. Palm Trees Helicopters And Gasoline
10. Your Funeral And My Trial
11. Torn Down

With his "power trio" days behind him (bidding a fond farewell to Eric Czar and Kenny Kramme), You & Me is undeniably a turning point in Joe's career - marking the beginning of a lucrative creative partnership between Joe Bonamassa and record producer Kevin Shirley (which is still going strong ten years later). I'd personally call this Joe's breakout album - it's his first record that sounds more like an "album" than just a collection of songs (notwithstanding the blues concept of Blues Deluxe, and the sonic consistency of A New Day Yesterday), representing a maturity and sophistication not heard before - as Joe audibly wields more control over both his singing and his guitar playing. This is the first album on which Joe's original (and co-written) material begins to rival (not surpass just yet - if So Many Roads and Tea For One have anything to say about it - but rival) his legendary covers. It's also the first of only two studio albums (as of 2016) not named for one of its tracks, although it could easily have been called Bridge To Better Days (except insofar as that would do an injustice to three of the four albums that preceded it).

The first half of You & Me practically plays like a greatest hits album, opening with the blues groove of High Water Everywhere, evoking the legendary floods of the Mississippi delta, then kicking into the phenomenal and inspirational Bridge To Better Days, with its infectious main riff, followed by Joe's best and sweetest ballad yet, which makes tasteful use of its symphonic accompaniment, Asking Around For You ("if I ever get to Heaven, the first thing that I'll do, is tap an angel on the shoulder, and I'll be asking around for you"), with So Many Roads on cleanup. That last song is credited as an Otis Rush cover, but given Joe's familiarity with the British blues, I like to believe he had John Mayall's Bluesbreakers in mind at the time, who recorded this song (and another that turns up on this album - Your Funeral And My Trial) with Peter Green on guitar. Regardless, whether by way of John Mayall and Peter Green, or Otis Rush (and you can't go wrong either way), So Many Roads is one of Joe's best slow blues covers, and one of his first in a long line of songs about trains.

The album mellows out a little bit at this point - but we haven't even gotten to the best song yet! I Don't Believe is another rollicking rocker, although it plays on a riff that I think has been used to better effect in some of Joe's later songs. Tamp Em Up Solid (credited to Ry Cooder) is an acoustic piece with a bit of a sparse, "church revival" kind of sound, that shows off Joe's melodic range as a singer, and Django (as in jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt) is a sublime and roomy electric instrumental that I've been trained to expect as the opener to another song - usually one of Joe's live epics, such as Mountain Time or Just Got Paid - as heard in concerts from Joe's middle period. Both serve as a nice foil to much of the heavier material on this album (and Joe's discography in general). Then we come to Joe's classic rock cover du jour (or album), which is an ambitious take on one of rock royalty's lesser sung gems, the slow blues of Led Zeppelin's Tea For One. It's a perfect fit, and with guest vocalist Doug Henthorn taking over the singing, Joe does an incredible job evoking the sound and feeling of Jimmy Page's liquid leads. As a huge fan of the band, I rate it one of the finest Zeppelin covers I've heard.

Finishing up the album is a trio of tracks that each carry their weight, even if they don't earn themselves a place on any of my greatest hits discs. Palm Trees Helicopters And Gasoline (I'm thinking that must be some kind of reference to the Vietnam War?) is this album's acoustic showpiece - as well as its instrumental filler with a funny name. Your Funeral And My Trial (a song credited to Sonny Boy Williamson) is one of those "junk food rockers" - short, simple, but oh so satisfying, with a searing guitar solo. Nobody makes filler that tastes so good like Joe Bonamassa. Finally, Torn Down (not to be confused with Freddie King's I'm Tore Down, which was also covered by Eric Clapton) starts off with a lot of promise, but loses a little of its swagger in the breakdown - which is really a shame, because it has the makings of being an even better song. Even so, it's a strong finish to a strong album by a burgeoning artist who had nowhere to go but up.

Rating: 💿💿💿 Frequent Spin

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