Thursday, December 8, 2016

Joe Bonamassa - Black Rock (2010)

1. Steal Your Heart Away
2. I Know A Place
3. When The Fire Hits The Sea
4. Quarryman's Lament
5. Spanish Boots
6. Bird On A Wire
7. Three Times A Fool
8. Night Life
9. Wandering Earth
10. Look Over Yonders Wall
11. Athens To Athens
12. Blue And Evil
13. Baby You Gotta Change Your Mind

Like Sloe Gin, Black Rock is another experimental departure for Joe. It was recorded in Greece (at Black Rock Studios in Santorini), and features a mediterranean, "world music" sort of flavor, with the addition of various folk instruments. It rocks considerably harder than Sloe Gin, but the songs feel a little disjointed, and in my opinion actually suffer from an attempt to fuse different musical forms, instead of planting themselves firmly in one camp or the other. Prior to reminding myself of the extent to which Sloe Gin is an acoustic album during this retrospective listening marathon, I had considered Black Rock to be my least favorite Joe Bonamassa album (even below So, It's Like That), and it's still among those I listen to the least frequently, surpassed only by the likes of An Acoustic Evening at the Vienna Opera House.

But saying that I don't especially like the album doesn't mean that it is entirely without merit. Notable highlights might include the Jeff Beck cover, Spanish Boots (though appropriately European-themed, it pales in comparison to the best of Joe's earlier period classic rock covers); Joe's "long time coming" duet with lifetime mentor and celebrated blues legend B.B. King on Night Life (although, as with Eric Clapton's guest appearance on Live From The Royal Albert Hall, the recording cannot hope to reflect the momentousness of the occasion); and my personal favorite, Blue And Evil, which opens with an acoustic riff but quickly blasts into full electric force (with the meanest riff since Cream's Politician), reminding me of an earlier favorite: The River from Had To Cry Today.

The album opens on what is probably its strongest foot, with Steal Your Heart Away, a solid rocker, and the John Hiatt-penned I Know A Place, followed by When The Fire Hits The Sea (a title that evokes mental images of Greek fire). That last one has a strong vocal part, but like much on this album, I don't feel that it reaches the extra mile to distinguish itself as "great". Upon repeated listening, Quarryman's Lament (possibly a sequel to Story of a Quarryman from The Ballad of John Henry) has grown on me the most, and is what I would call the best demonstration of the bouzouki and clarino accompaniment on this album (which, quite honestly, can get in the way on some of the other songs), giving it a flutey, stringy kind of sound.

For an album that features both a Freddie King and an Otis Rush cover (Look Over Yonders Wall and Three Times A Fool, respectively), I don't really feel that it brings the blues. Maybe it's just the context of the album they appear on, or that they're more blues fillers than showstoppers, but I like the original artist's version better in both cases. Wandering Earth (an original) is probably the most traditional-sounding Joe Bonamassa track on the album, but as an electric blues, it feels kind of lethargic. Joe's cover of Leonard Cohen's Bird on a Wire is sweet and gentle, but it makes me wonder if this is part of Kevin Shirley's ploy to expand Joe's popularity into the female demographic. The other strictly acoustic track on this album, Athens to Athens, similarly leaves me dry.

Finally, the album closes with a lightweight acoustic ditty - a cover of Blind Boy Fuller's Baby You Gotta Change Your Mind - that reminds me of Van Halen's Ice Cream Man, albeit not so gimmicky, and with less vocal theatrics (as opposed to, say, Joe's cover of Jelly Roll from Sloe Gin). It also kinda dulls the thunder of Blue and Evil, which directly precedes it, and would have made for a more climactic finish to the album. Coming to Black Rock as a fan of Joe Bonamassa the blues rock titan, it doesn't get me very excited. But you might find it considerably more interesting if you're someone with a deeper appreciation of Greek or "world" music. And, hey, every new fan of Joe helps to build his legacy as one of the greats! But if I had to choose, I'd just as soon put another of Joe's discs on the turntable for a spin.

Rating: 💿 Rare Spin