Joe Bonamassa on Top Form, Again!

I have to admit, having been to this concert in June 2016, I was concerned that the CD/DVD would never be released. It has, and all Bonamassa fans will be delighted at the result. Hopefully, some new fans will listen as well, for this is one of the master guitarists of any generation.

This concert follows on from the Muddy Waters/Howlin’ Wolf tribute and the Three Kings homage,  covering most of Joes’ major influences.

Bonamassas’ debt to British blues is well documented, and here he reveals a deep understanding, as well as love, of the music of his three British influences, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton and Jimmy Paige. To my mind, Joe wisely stays away from the main songs of each artist, presumably to avoid direct comparison. This decision also enables Joe and the band to play exactly the tracks they like best.

Don’t get it wrong, this is no slavish tribute, more a use of the material as a starting point for some splendid re-interpretations. Bonamassa has never been afraid to collaborate or to share the limelight and this is true once again here, sharing lead vocals with Russ Irwin on “Let me love you, Baby”, and allowing keyboard player Reese Wynans plenty of solo work, particularly on “Boogie with Stu”.

Pretty much all forms of Blues are here, boogie woogie, the driving rock of “Motherless Children”, the hard blues-rock of “Spanish Boots”, the moodiness of “Tea for one/I can’t quit you baby” and the sheer fun of “Little Girl”.

As you would expect, there are plenty of extended guitar solos here, particularly on “SWLABR” and “How many more times”, which feature the trademark ‘controlled’ improvisation we have come to expect! The album should have been subtitled ‘Bonamassa Unleashed’. Favourite tracks? well, all really, but “Spanish Boots” and “Pretending” really stand out, as does the exceptional playing on “Blackwater/Django”, a track which reveals the Spanish/Mexican and Eastern influences on Joes’ playing.

The band is rounded out by the effortless bass playing of Michael Rhodes and Anton Fig on drums.I love watching Fig, as he relishes playing live after so many years in the studio and on the David Letterman show, attacking the kit as if it might be the last chance he gets.

Set List:

  • Beck’s Bolero/Rice Pudding
  • Mainline Florida
  • Boogie with Stu
  • Let me love you, baby
  • Plynth (Water down the drain)
  • Spanish Boots
  • Double crossing time.
  • Motherless children
  • SWLABR
  • Tea for one/I can’t quit you, baby
  • Little Girl
  • Pretending
  • Black winter/Django
  • How many more times

Tommy Castro Stompin’ Ground

You are never disappointed by a Tommy Castro gig, and the same applies to his albums, especially this one.

Tommy Castro Stompin’ GroundYou are never disappointed by a Tommy Castro gig, and the same applies to his albums, especially this one.

One of the achievements of Stompin Ground is that Tommy and his band, The Painkillers, manage to capture the fun and excitement of a live set on disc. Much of Tommy’s appeal stems from his combination of blues, rock, rockabilly and soul, allied to a strong voice, superb guitar playing, and this album contains it all.

These songs, however, are not just, good time fun, there is a serious side as well, as very evident in such tracks as the political and socially charged Enough is Enough, Fear is the Enemy, and the beautiful My Old Neighbourhood, a song harking rather sadly back to a time when life was less complicated.

It is not always possible to carry a horn section around on tour, but it is always nice to hear them on recordings and especially so on Nonchalant (a wry observational song), Blues all Around Me and the aforementioned, My Old Neighbourhood.

Then, there are the out and out good time songs like Soul Shake, Rock Bottom and Love is. Castro is never frightened to share the limelight (witness the extended solos live by keyboard player Michael Emerson) and this album is no exception, with telling contributions from David Hidalgo, Mike Zito (always good value!) and the immensely talented Danielle Nicole who adds her powerful voice to Soul Shake.

Tommy’s band of Emerson, Randy McDonald (bass) and drummer Bowen Brown add to the tremendously solid feel of this album, and it is, as said, like one of his gigs, fun and thoughtful with some superb guitar playing.

Samantha Fish | Belle of the West

Nothing exemplifies the idea that the definition between music genres is often blurred more than this latest offering from Samantha Fish.

Her earlier hard-ass blues recordings have, in 2017, given way to a gentler blend of Americana (a phrase which, is a bit of a catch-all anyway), rockabilly, country, and country blues, without losing sight of her roots, or perhaps these are her roots!

The track ‘American dream’ is a fine example of the use of additional, traditional instruments and musicians. The fiddle, fife and mandolin give an almost hillbilly feel. For Hillbilly, they say, read Scots/Irish, and the British folk influence on country music is to the fore on this track especially.

Whatever the genre, Fish’s song have a nice edge and sometimes a bitterness, which is evident on ‘Blood in the Water’. ‘Need You More’ has a charming old country feel to it, with Fish’s voice revealing a longing, wistful tone.

The title track, by James Mathus, fits perfectly with the largely self-penned tracks on the album, and has a hark-back feel to it. It reminds me of cowboy songs from the 50s, about dreams and people who achieve fame and possibly find it is not what they thought it was. I could seriously hear Hank Williams singing this!

As well as the incorporation of additional musicians, Fish is not afraid to share vocals on a couple of tracks, ‘Poor Black Mattie’ and the yearning duet with Lillie Mae Rische on the latter’s ‘Nearing Home’ providing proof. The only thing I was left wanting, was a dash of twin fiddles!

This album is a remarkable change of direction, and there will be those who don’t like the change and will struggle with the very American-ness of it, but for me, it proves that Samantha Fish is much more than a one-trick pony. On this album, she steps even further out from the shadow of a bluesy guitar picker.

Fave track? Possibly the driving ‘Gone for Good’, or the plaintive ‘Need You More’.

Joe Satriani | What Happens Next

Electrifying, yeah, that’s a good word for it.

Dynamic, yeah that’s a good word for it

Funky, surprisingly yeah etc.

Joe Satriani achieves something almost unheard of in modern music, yet again, with this stunning instrumental album. Instrumentals are a thing of the past radio play wise, well on most pop stations anyway. Why, when there are albums like this around?

A friend of mine wanted to ask Satriani how much he used technology in the studio, like did he obsessively overdub tiny sections he was unhappy with, and how many tracks were overlaid to create the remarkably dense, full sound Joe is famous for.  Also, my friend wanted to know how Satriani helps to recreate studio sound when playing live. Well, I don’t know the answers, but what hits you immediately with What happens next, apart from the amazing dexterity of Joes playing, is the lightness. The tracks have a freshness and an alive feel that almost makes you believe the whole album was recorded with an all mics live approach. Producer Mike Fraser has done a clear, sharp job and the overall sound is splendid.

There are the usual, complex thoughtful tracks like Super Funky Badass, along with the pounding, Baba O’Reilly like, Thunder High on The Mountain, the aptly named Smooth Soul, where you can almost hear the non-existent voice, so melodic is Satriani’s playing. Catbot has a nice fast paced rock edge to it, whilst Invisible strays directly into the jazz path. Forever & Ever has a nice, romantic feel to it, reminding me of “Always with Me, Always with You”

As you would expect, the energy level throughout is high, with the legend that is Glenn Hughes providing thumping base and complimentary but never intrusive drumming from Red Hot Chilli Peppers Stix man Chad Smith.

I first saw Joe Satriani in the early 90s, but I haven’t listened to him much in the last few years, and that makes it all the more pleasing that this album is so satisfying. Buy It.

Bonamassa | Black Coffee

I first heard about and saw Beth Hart when she was a guest at a Joe Bonamassa concert in New York. As far as I am concerned, they are one of the finest combinations in music, and this welcome third collaborative album is every bit as good as the previous two.

Harts voice, like Bonamassa’s guitar playing, is so varied. Rock, soul jazz, blues, torch songs, all seem equally effortless to her, as is made clear on tracks like Black Coffee and Lullaby of the leaves.

Kevin Shirley’s production always seems so effortless and, key word, Clean. Nothing gets in the way of the musicians, all of whom excel, as do the trio of outstanding backup singers.

Bonamassa plus horns. What a sound! Unlike strings, which are often used as a fill-in and blunt the integrity of blues/rock, Horns add so much punch, and it is worth remembering that blues started in, well, let’s not get into that, but suffice to say that early blues singers were usually accompanied by horns!

Why don’t you do right, has the jazzy feel that Hart excels at, and the insinuating tone that her man isn’t doing enough to keep her ‘happy’ is well to the fore.

Soul on fire showcases both talents to the max. Harts voice has a combination of vicious bad bitch and longing, yearning fragility, and Joes guitar playing has a fluidity found only amongst the best.

As for Baby I love you. Well it has a new tune!  A bit like Sari Schorr’s version of Stop in the name of Love. Makes it into a new song, as with the gospel tinged Saved.

Perhaps the mark of a good album, especially one of covers, is the way songs of different types and styles are melded into a cohesive whole, whilst retaining much of their original essence. That is certainly true here, as it is on another of Kevin Shirley’s productions, Joanne Shaw Taylors Wild.

Blak & Blu | Gary Clark Jr.

Blak & Blu by the aforementioned Gary Clark Jr. This is not a new CD, but it is new to me and makes me wonder why I haven’t listened to him before.

Clark has been described as a Bluesman for the new age, but one of his greatest qualities is his ability to weld old and new together without losing the essence of either. To me, Clark is reminiscent of Stevie Ray Vaughan, and all the better for it. Like SRV, Clark has a strong Hendrix influence and, which again is no bad thing.

As with Jackie Venson, variety is the key here. Next door Neighbour Blues is strictly old time Delta blues, Ain’t Messin Around & The Life have a brassy, soulful sound. Travis County is as close to old school Rock n Roll as you can get, and the Gil Scott-Heron/Brian Jackson inspired Blak and Blu is seriously funky. Clark even dips into Doo Wap for Please come Home, but my favourite tracks are the heavy, Hendrix influenced “When My Train Pulls in” and “Third Stone from The Sun/If You Love Me Like You Say”.

The arrangements vary from the simple to the complex, with no fear of studio effects etc. Buy it for the guitar work alone, but the vocals and lyrics of the largely self-penned tracks will excite you just as much.

Five years after its release, I finally catch up with this album, and it is worth the wait.

Jackie Venson | Transends

You know, there is too much “Definition” in music. Indeed, there is too much definition in life generally. Whilst I use the term Rock Soul & Blues for my radio show, that is really just a handy label. I like the way music transcends definition and I try to blur the line between one type of music and another.

All of which brings me neatly to two CDs which are hard to review, not because they are hard to listen to, but because they defy generalisation and definition. If you take my earlier drift, you will see that means these CDs suit me exactly.

Firstly, we have a new EP from Jackie Venson. I heard about her from someone on twitter, so thanks to whoever it was. I have heard some artists in Nashville referred to as a triple Threat, in that they write, sing and play guitar. I am not who would consider her a threat, but Jackie does all musical things and particularly well. Her 5-track EP, Transcends, combines Vinson’s Bluesy, Funky style of guitar playing with original and often pointed lyrics, all sung in a soulful but edgy voice.

Two songs I particularly like are ‘Fast’, a song about being yourself, not following trends and living at one’s own pace, and ‘Transcends’ about Love transcending, hate, manipulation, prejudice. This song, in particular, showcases a gentle but steely quality to Vinson’s voice

Flying

Fast

Mysterious

Fight

Transcends

Jackie Venson has been described as “A Gary Clark Jr level talent” (Austin American Statesman) which is high praise indeed, and leads me to the next CD!