CD Review – Joe Bonamassa “An Acoustic Evening” and “We Want Grooove”
There is no arguing the case that Joe Bonamassa is prolific. The blues guitarist promotes himself relentlessly, so a recent email hailing him as “beating ” B.B. King and Stevie Ray Vaughn initially elicited a sigh from me. But when I read on it was “Bonamassa Beats B.B. King and Stevie Ray for Most #1 Billboard Blues Records”, actually noting his record 10th number one debut on the Billboard blues charts (the other two have nine each).
The album in question is “An Acoustic Evening at the Vienna Opera House” and was the second recent release to take Bonamassa away from his usual heavy blue-rock, guitar god persona. The other, of which more later, was “We Want Grooove” by his side project Rock Candy Funk Party.
To remind , Bonamassa was a blues guitar wunderkind. He could play Hendrix at 7, at the age of 12, he played on stage with the late Danny Gatton and, at 13, was featured on TV’s Real Life with Jane Pauley. Since then, he has played with the likes of Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood, Robert Cray etc. He regular tunes up with Black Country Communion. He is a stalwart of some classic rock radio stations.
This live acoustic release – 2 CDs and optional DVD – is different. Bonamassa is all about showy guitar work, and there is plenty of that. But it is refined and muted, making it all the more enjoyable. He is accompanied by Irish tenor banjo player Gerry O’Connor (who is having a ball, judging by his smiles on the DVD), Swede Mats Wester, who plays something called a nyckelharpa, keyboardist Arlan Schierbaum (another wunderkind) and veteran percussionist Lenny Castro – pretty much a supergroup in its field.
The result is highly entertaining, mixing blues with a touch of folk. Played this way, some of Bonamassa’s originals sound much older than they are – like Americana classics from the past. Among them are a really lively “Slow Train”, a fun “Jelly Roll”, and a “Mountain Time” that at time sounds like the Grateful Dead. Good stuff.
The “Grooove” album is a little less successful, although still a good listen. The idea was to reboot a bit of classic instrumental ’70s/80′ jazz-funk – and it is true that at times you expect Shaft to come around the corner. The quality of the music is fine, but it is all too smooth. Dare I say it lacks soul? Still, as I say it is quite a good listen and I have put it on more than once.