Blues-Rock guitarist Joe Bonamassa is surely one of the hardest working musicians around – with ten solo studio albums in 12 years plus another five solo live albums, four Black Country Communion albums, an album with Beth Hart and appearances on numerous other albums, it’s amazing he has time to fit everything in especially when he tours heavily too. He’s now releasing another live album which coincides with his run of four live shows in London, playing at fours different venues – The Borderline, Shepherds Bush Empire Hammersmith Apollo and the Royal Albert Hall. That’s a range of different sized venues and all are smaller than his usual arena tours so are a rare opportunity for fans to see him in small venues, with the Borderline being tiny compared to his usual shows as it only holds a few hundred people.
“Joe Bonamassa is releasing a new live album”. That news surprised me at first as he’s not a man that is short of live albums, with his latest one only (Beacon Theatre: Live From New York) only having been released six months ago, but this one is rather different as you can tell from the title – this is an acoustic live album. That certainly got my interest – how would his great blues-rock songs sound when performed acoustically rather than on his usual electric guitar.
The album is being released in a range of formats. First of all you have a double CD. Then there’s a double Vinyl version, and then there are the video versions – double DVD or a Blu-Ray, both of which offer 5.1 digital sound.
The album was recorded at the Vienna Opera House where he played as part of a 7 date acoustic tour. On this tour Joe Bonamassa played with several other musicians – Gerry O’Connor (Irish fiddle, Mandolin, Banjo), Mats Wester (Nyckelharpa – a keyed fiddle), Lenny Castro (Percussion) and Arian Schierbaum (celeste, accordion, toy piano and more).
The tour was apaprently originally envisaged as a one-man show with just Joe Bonamassa playing various guitars, but his long time producer Kevin Shirley suggested changing to having a band, which in my opinion was an excellent choice. The use of the fiddles in particular works superbly well as they do an effective job of replacing some of the sounds you’d normally get from an electric guitar. The percussion too adds a lot to the music. It’s something you take for granted usually but when you strip a song down to a simple acoustic form then each instrument’s contribution becomes far more noticeable and important.
With an acoustic show the guitar solos tend to be less frequent and shorter to reflect the lack of potential once you take away the sustain and the effects that are so often used with an electric guitar to hold long notes, add distortion or manipulate the sound in other ways, so there are less breaks for Joe Bonamassa’s voice.
With it being an acoustic show I was expecting a lot less variety in the sound than there actually is – again that’s partly down to the other instruments being used, as well as being down to the use of different guitars for different songs and more simply down to how well the songs have been written and then arranged for the acoustic performance. It’s hard to pick out individual songs as being better or worse than others – they’re all good, but on the first disc my personal favourites are probably ‘Jelly roll’ and ‘Dust bowl’, and on the second, ‘Jockey Full of Bourbon’and ‘Stones in my passageway’.
If you watch the DVD you get to see just how many instruments are used. In a normal electric concert a guitarist may swap between two or three guitars, but here Bonamassa looks to have at least a dozen different acoustic guitars, and the other musicians also have a number of different instruments. The percussion was particularly interesting as some of the instruments are home-made, so alongside professional instruments that must be worth hundreds if not thousands of pounds, you have a percussion instrment that is basically a plastic drink bottle with a stone or piece of metal in it – simple but effective at producing the particular sound the player wants. There are other unusual instruments used, but you’ll have to watch the DVD to see them for yourself.
The DVD is definitely worth watching as you get more than just the concert – there are also talking segments included as well as bits of information such as the staggering fact that the band only met for the first time 3 days before the concert – that is a staggering level of confidence, to only meet people for the first time a few days before a show that is being filmed and recorded for release. It says a lot about the talents of the individuals involved that they managed to prepare so well in such a short space of time
This is an excellent album. Given a choice between an acoustic blues or blues-rock album and one with electric guitars I’d normally go for the electric one, but I’m very glad I’ve listened to this acoustic album as it really is such a good listen.
2. Palm Trees, Helicopters and Guns
3. Jelly Roll
4. Dust Bowl
5. Around the Bend
6. Slow Train
7. Athens to Athens
8. From the Valley
9. The Ballad of John Henry
10. Dislocated Boy
11. Driving Towards the Daylight
1. High Water Everywhere
2. Jockey Full of Bourbon
4. Stones in My Passway
5. Ball Peen Hammer
6. Black Lung Heartache
7. Mountain Time
8. Woke Up Dreaming
9. Sloe Gin