LIVE at CARNEGIE HALL (An Acoustic Evening).
Guitar Virtuoso Discovers His Brilliance Knows No Bounds.
Joe Bonamassa probably divides opinion among Blues and Rock fans more than anyone else has for decades. His fans can be like acolytes hoovering up everything he releases and taking any criticism personally; whereas plenty of others dismiss him out of hand as a ‘soulless showman,’ and in my humble opinion both sets are wrong.
Prolific, he’s now released 24ish albums in 17 years and while I’ve only been reviewing them for 5; my own feelings towards him and his music have certainly evolved from being in the latter camp – once describing him as a ’21st Century Alvin Lee – the fastest guitar in the West’ but more recently I’ve come to admire the way he constantly challenges himself and allows himself to evolve in a way I’ve not seen since the cusp of the 1960’s and 70’s.
My biggest criticism of Bonamassa’s earlier albums was that a) his voice was a bit too thin and b) his guitar playing was too fancy and long winded which were both highlighted on his many Live albums.
Both wrongs have been righted in recent years when he has ‘discovered his Roots’ and slowed things down; and LIVE at CARNEGIE HALL (An Acoustic Evening) really showcases the ‘new’ Joe Bonamassa.
The album opens with a ‘bang’ as the band throw everything they have at This Train and the addition of International artists playing a multitude of acoustic instruments make it almost unrecognisable from the album version. With so much going on behind him it should be impossible for Joe to make his own acoustic guitar stand out; but….. boy….does he manage it; and his now slightly worn-in voice sounds wonderful.
As the applause dies down a much gentler almost mystical sound filters from the speakers and again we get a completely updated version of Drive, which is taken into the territory I would normally associate with the legendary John Martyn.
More Classic Bonamassa songs are also turned inside out and come out the other side all the better for this refreshing treatment; never a lover of Dust Bowl I sat transfixed twice as I finally got to listen to the words; and I now I get to revel in some delicious bottle neck playing on the intro to Black Lung Heartache; and song really does become the atmospheric epic it always threatened to be.
As expected on previous live outings everything revolved around Bonamassa’s brilliant and technical electric guitar playing; but even allowing for the fulsome instrumentation included here, the songs are allowed to breathe letting the listener hear the beautiful stories that make up Get Back My Tomorrow and the gentle Mountain Time.
There are a couple of songs here that I wasn’t previously aware of, in particular Song of Yesterday from his Black Country Communion days; and the inclusion of some female backing singers and Bonamassa’s all-powerful acoustic playing had me thinking of Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs and Englishmen album; and probably that is as good a reference point for this record as any, especially because of the inclusion of Reese Wynans on piano.
I last heard Hummingbird on the Live at The Greek album and yet again; it is virtually unrecognisable in this beautiful format, and all the better for a ballsy Rootsy/Americana treatment that truly showcases Bonamassa’s skills on an acoustic guitar.
Unlike his previous Live Albums where everything plus the kitchen sink is thrown at the finale; tonight things slow down real, real slow for a beauteous rendition of The Rose which closes the night with more of a sigh than a scream, and works perfectly.
The production throughout is crystal clear with every instrument and voice being heard in it’s right place, behind Joe Bonamassa’s masterful guitar playing and endearing singing.
Favourite track? That’s easy…..How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live? An age old tale that is still a soundtrack for 2017 and Joe Bonamassa sings the bones out of it!
There’s next to no chit-chat between songs but if you want that there is also a DVD available too which has the addition of a Behind the Scenes film, with Joe talking about guitars (fancy that!), lots of photos and an extra song, and for audiophile there’s even a 3 x LP release too.
Released 23rd June 2017