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Joe Bonamassa is an artist whom I only began to listen to fairly recently, when a friend posted a song of his on a social networking site. That song was a cover of Sam Brown's hit 'Stop' and as I listened I was simply blown away by this man and his guitar.
I also listen to Planet Rock radio a few times a week and noticed Joe Bonamassa tracks being played on there from time to time too and became more and more interested after loving everything I heard. Then one evening I was was flicking through the channels on TV and noticed Joe Bonamassa live at the Albert Hall on Sky Arts. I recorded this and watched it through the next day and knew by then I had to start buying this man's music. He is such a phenomenal talent, I wondered why I had not noticed him sooner!
~~Who is Joe Bonamassa?~~
Joe was born in 1977 in New York. His parents owned a guitar shop and he grew up listening to guitar music and received his first guitar aged four. By the time Joe was seven, he was finessing Stevie Ray Vaughan licks and by the time he was ten, had caught the legendary B.B. King's ear. After first hearing him play, B.B. King said, "This kid's potential is unbelievable, he hasn't even begun to scratch the surface. He's one of a kind." By the age of twelve, Joe was opening shows for B.B. King and went on to tour with acts including Buddy Guy, Foreigner, Robert Cray, Stephen Stills, Joe Cocker and Gregg Allman.
Joe is also a big fan of and is heavily influenced also by Eric Clapton, who joined him onstage at the Royal Albert Hall, Gary Moore, Jeff Beck and Rory Gallagher.
~~The Ballad of John Henry~~
2009 coincided with Joe Bonamassa's twentieth year as a professional musician (can't believe I hadn't heard of him in all that time!) which is an extraordinary timeline for a young artist just into his '30s. This album 'The Ballad Of John Henry' is what Joe describes as "The ninth installment of the ever changing story of which my life has became" and went straight to No1 on the Billboard blues chart and stayed there for six months.
This album marked a more confessional approach to song writing than Joe had previously employed. "Making the first half of the album," Joe says, "I was in the happiest place I'd ever been in my life. The second half found me in completely the opposite state. I've come to the conclusion that experience makes for better art. I had more to say, and it's the first time I've personally opened up the book on my life."
1. The Ballad Of John Henry
3. Last Kiss
4. Jockey Full Of Bourbon
5. Story Of A Quarryman
6. Lonesome Road Blues
7. Happier Times
8. Feelin' Good
9. Funkier Than A Mosquito's Tweeter
10. The Great Flood
11. From The Valley
12. As The Crow Flies
Joe writes his own material and also covers a few classics in his work, but he wrote more for this album than he had previously.
The album opens with the title track 'The Ballad of John Henry' which has really grown on me after a couple of listens to become one of the stand out tracks on the album. A song about the ultimate working class hero, Joe proves what a great songwriting talent he has here. A chugging blues rock song which is the perfect opener, with a thundering bass over the solo section and a Zeppelin-esque section which reminds of Kashmir. I particularly like Joe's raspy quiet vocal towards the end as the song becomes quieter and Joe sings "Take this hammer carry it to the Captain, Tell him I'm goin' home.... take this hammer carry it to the Captain, Tell him why I'm gone ..." a complete contrast to the louder opening statement " Who killed John Henry? In the battle of sinners and saints." This song will give you goosebumps with Joe showing his talents lie in his vocal performance just as much as they do in his guitar playing.
Speaking of goosebumps, there is one song in particular which gives me goosebumps from start to finish on this album and not only is it my favourite track on the album, it is also my favourite Joe Bonamassa track overall to date. This song is 'Happier Times' which Joe states he wrote when he was " At my very bottom." Written about the person he thought was his great love, but it turned out she wasn't. Joe sings this with such emotion and his guitar seems to sing along with him in perfect unison, you simply feel every note just as he does.
I first heard this track when I watched Joe's Live at the Albert Hall performance and it was so stunning it brought a lump to my throat which is there each time I listen.
Included on the album is the track 'Stop' which first introduced me to Joe Bonamassa. I have always liked the original, but this is amped up a bit and the result is an amazing version of the Sam Brown classic which Joe described as very high to sing and believes you can hear his voice crack slightly on the last verse. There are a handful of cover versions which spring to mind that I have heard and thought are better than the original and I have to say I now include this amongst them.
Other covers here include a version of 'Feelin Good' which is as good as any other version I have heard, if not better and a cover of Tom Wait's 'Jockey Full Of Bourbon' which I absolutely love - a great blues song with a great chorus and includes one of the biggest guitar sounds Joe has put on a record.
Back to Joe's own work and 'Story Of A Quarryman' is another outstanding track which Joe advises to play very loud and I have to concur with that. Whilst 'Lonesome Road Blues' - a nod to Joe's youth follows, just make sure the volume remains at 'high' here. Listen with your headphones on and lose yourself.
Another of Joe's songs here ' The Great Flood' is the apology to his ex-girlfriend that he never said to her in words. It has a beautiful haunting baritone sax at the end and is another stand out on the album in my opinion. Joe himself describes it as possibly the best song he has ever written.
Praise must also be given to Joe's band here too. He has two drummers who performed on stage with him at the Albert Hall too and provides that bit of extra 'oomph' - Bogie Bowles and Anton Fig. On Bass is Carmine Rojas, Keyboards and backing vocals - Rick Melick, Rhythm Guitar - Blondie Chaplin, Brass & arrangements - Lee Thornburg and Sax - David Woodford. All are excellent musicians and provide a great backing to Joe, something which really hits home even more so when you watch him performing live. Indeed Joe Bonamassa travels the world playing an average of 200 shows a year, and his mind-blowing guitar and stage presence with his band is seeing him selling out progressively larger venues all the time. I have recently secured tickets to see him live next month in the UK and I cannot wait!
There are simply no weak tracks on The Ballad of John Henry in my opinion and it is an album I have been playing over and over again recently. If you are a fan of blues rock or Eric Clapton, Gary Moore etc then I urge you to give Joe Bonamassa a listen, you won't regret it!
Joe Bonamassa was a child guitar prodigy and is now one of the most prolific artists of recent times having recorded and released 12 studio albums since 2000, (soon to be 13) including nine solo albums and two albums with his supergroup Black Country Communion which also features Glenn Hughes, Derek Sherinian and Jason Bonham. Bonamassa has worked with and is highly regarded by many of the greatest artists around today. I have seen him live twice and he was amazing both times but the album I am reviewing today is his seventh solo album "The Ballad of John Henry" which was released in 2009.
**The Ballad of John Henry**
The album was produced by longtime producer and also Black Country Communion producer Kevin Shirley, "The Ballad of John Henry" was the follow up to 2007 release "Sloe Gin" and was followed up by "Black Rock" in 2010. The Ballad of John Henry is one of his best albums and features Carmine Rojas on Bass guitar, Anton Fig & Bogie Bowles on drums, Rick Melick - keyboards, backing vocals, Blondie Chaplin - rhythm guitar, Lee Thornburg - brass instruments, brass arrangements & David Woodford - saxophone. The album blends together styles from his previous albums with a twist and features a few covers.
1.) The Ballad of John Henry
We open with the rousing title track, This is a dynamic and pretty superb track which is superb Live. The track tells the story of the American folk hero "John Henry". The vocals are up there with his best work and the fabulous guitar melodies are joined with some equally fabulous orchestral backing which really adds to the feel of the track. Joe Bonamassa really showcases his guitar talent here and also the often overlooked Theremin which takes the track to another place.
This is an absolutely superb cover of the original by Sam Brown, I really liked the Jamelia version which I felt was a far superior version to the original but this is even better. The vocals from Bonamassa are strong and emotive and his guitar work builds superbly and he showcases his guitar talent with some fine solos. I love the horn section in this song which really builds the sound. This really Follows the opener with another splendid track really showcasing his guitar abilities.
3.) Last Kiss
This is a change of pace with a funkier and more uptempo pace. The Blues guitar and the emotive vocals combine well with the backing instruments to create an excellent soundstage. This is a real toe tapper of a track and the guitar solo really works well. At over 7 minutes long this is the second longest track on the album and I also really like the backing keyboards which add a really nice touch. This track is one example of the variety of Joe Bonamassa's music.
4.) Jockey Full of Bourbon
This is a cover of the Tom Waits original, I'm not a big fan of his but this is a far better version, Joe Bonamassa really does a nice job here, The heavier guitar and more gentle guitar combine well as do the drums and bass. The track soon benefits from some rousing guitar work which really takes the track to the next level. All the instruments combine to create an excellent track which works really well with the other tracks on this album.
5.) Story of a Quarryman
This is a raucous Blues Rock track which features some fine guitar work and the bass works really well here in my opinion. This is another track that progresses really well and the musicianship of Joe Bonamassa and his band really shines through. The solo is superb and really captures the feel of the track. Another really excellent track which again shows the variety with a slight reggae breakdown around the middle of the track and then a fast paced crescendo.
6.) Lonesome Road Blues
This is one of the shortest moments here but is still a very decent track, Bonamassa's emotive vocals are there again and the guitar work is fluid and very good. This track combines new Blues and and older Blues style very well and the ending guitar solo is particularly fluid and is the highlight of the track. Another very good track here.
7.) Happier Times
This is a slower track than the previous couple and Bonamassa takes a more story teller like role with his vocals. This track is about looking back on things that have happened and reminiscing about happier times. I really like the way the track progresses as his guitar work comes in with great emotion and the bass guitar and drum sequence whilst the guitar solo comes in really compliments it well and adds to the overall feel of the track.
8.) Feelin Good
This is a fabulous version of this track which has been covered so many times. The Cy Grant original was written by Leslie Bricusse & Anthony Newley. The vocals are emotive and the backing instruments are superb here as is the lead guitar from Joe Bonamassa with some excellent extended guitar solos. This is undoubtedly the best version of the track I have heard. I love the way it builds and then the guitar solo just erupts. Superb stuff.
9.) Funkier than a Mosquito's Tweeter
This is another rousing cover, this time it's an Ike & Tina Turner cover which I am not that familiar with but I know the track. This uptempo track really works well and the funky rock feel of the guitar combines well with the horns in the background. This track features some fantastic and vibrant guitar work which is both superb and varied. This is another excellent cover version on the album. Superb Stuff.
10.) The Great Flood
This is without a doubt one of the highlights of the album, It's a dark, slow Blues Ballad which builds wonderfully well. Bonamassa's vocals are emotive and the overall feel of the track is too. I just love the way that this track builds to the guitar solo which itself is superb. This track tells you everything you need to know about the superb talent that is Joe Bonamassa, fine voice, great emotive songwriting and to top it off a stupendously good guitar solo. This track is the longest on the album at 7 minutes 39 seconds.
11.) From the Valley
It's a nice change of pace, an atmospheric electro acoustic track which really showcases the musical range of Joe Bonamassa. no words, just the guitar. This is the shortest track on the album at just 2 minutes 24 seconds but what there is there is worth a listen. very good stuff.
12.) As the crow flies
This is a funky rock track which opens with electro acoustic guitar and then the drums kick in, I like the catchy flow of the track and it also progresses well with some great guitar licks and tones. The guitar solo towards the end is quite different from the solos on much of the album again showcasing his musical range. This is an excellent track to end on.
This is a fine album from Joe Bonamassa, it gives some great examples of his superb guitar talent and also his craft for songwriting and building a song. The standouts on the album are the Title track, "Stop", "Feelin Good" and "The Great Flood" but there are no bad tracks on here, they all offer something great about them. The four best tracks though are amongst the best of his career and when you consider how prolific he has been then that is some praise. An excellent album from arguably the greatest Guitarist of our time.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 The Ballad Of John Henry
3 Last Kiss
4 Jockey Full Of Bourbon
5 Story Of A Quarryman
6 Lonesome Road Blues
7 Happier Times
8 Feelin' Good
9 Funkier Than A Mosquito's Tweeter
10 The Great Flood
11 From The Valley
12 As The Crow Flies)