Joe Bonamassa – Live At Carnegie Hall – An Acoustic Evening


Individual, laid back and a tad experimental

Released on 23 June 2017 by Provogue and reviewed by Gary Cordwell

So, another month brings another new release from the ever prolific Joe Bonamassa. What is it this time, I hear you cry, a new studio album? A new collaboration? Or a live album? And if so, which type? Regular show, themed show or famous venue? Well, it’s a bit of a mix of these. It’s live, it’s all acoustic and it’s at the iconic Carnegie Hall…oh yeah, and it’s multiple formats.

Wait, I hear you cry (again), he’s done a live acoustic album before from a famed venue (The Vienna Opera House) but there are a few new twists this time around. As well as a few band regulars there are some new additions in tow – namely the acclaimed Chinese cellist Tina Guo, who acts as a one-woman string section, and Egyptian percussionist Hossam Ramzy, best known for playing with Plant and Page on their Unledded tour. Plus we have backing vocalists, who are fast becoming a regular feature on Bonamassa tours.

So, you ask again (what’s with all the questions you lot!) – how does this 9 piece band sound? What’s the vibe? Mellow mostly, since you’ve asked, and smooth. A tad bluesy but soul and gospel are nudging to the fore. There are fairly faithful early renditions of JB tracks such as ‘This Train’ and ‘Dust Bowl’. ‘Drive’, one of the stand out tracks from ‘Blues Of Desperation’, works perfectly in this acoustic setting, its tone plaintive and mournful, the flamenco style solo adding mood.

This milieu brings out entirely different sides of several staples, they’re relaxed and low key. The groove and atmosphere of ‘Blue And Evil’ is still there but the Zepisms have been removed and replaced with extra bluesiness. The saxophone that courses through ‘Livin’ Easy’ swings lightly and adds a late night, jazz bar vibe, while ‘Get Back My Tomorrow’ becomes a bit of a banjo (or is it mandolin) hoedown.

The slide blues of ‘Black Lung Heartache’ recalls Ry Cooder – as does the album as a whole – individual, laid back and a tad experimental. Songs float on a gentle breeze, extended live favourites become bucolic ballads, blues standards become jazzy depression era shuffles, and Black Country Communion songs, while retaining their power, replace volume and lighters-aloft powerchords with emotion and subtle dynamics.

The evenings only real concession to shredding comes with ‘Woke Up Dreaming’, Bonamassa and Guo trading breakneck licks, JB barrelling through a slashing, almost acousto-thrash solo while Tina spins around him, it’s speed and stop/start dynamics are thrilling. The show ends with a pair of interesting covers, a faithful cover of Leon Russells ‘Hummingbird’ (also tackled by Jimmy Page on his solo ‘Outrider’ album) is gentle and, erm, groovy, while ‘The Rose’ (a somewhat schmaltzy ballad made famous by Bette Midler) fits perfectly with the overall mood of the evening – gentle, subtle and an improvement on the original.

The evening is a success and highlights a very different side to Mr. Bonamassa. It’s a relaxed affair, soulful and gospelly. There are little or no histrionics, for these shows the song was the thing and everything was done in their service. Bonamassa too seems happy – perhaps this is a direction he wishes to explore further, who knows, only time will tell, but for now this is a very enjoyable release.

PRD75221_450Track list:

  1. This Train
  2. Drive
  3. The Valley Runs Low
  4. Dust Bowl
  5. Driving Towards Daylight
  6. Black Lung Heartache
  7. Blue And Evil
  8. Livin’ Easy
  9. Get Back My Tomorrow
  10. Mountain Time
  11. How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times And Live
  12. Song Of Yesterday
  13. Woke Up Dreaming
  14. Hummingbird
  15. The Rose