Album + Live
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Seemingly in an organic, wildfire-spreading way, New York singer/guitarist Joe Bonamassa has become a hugely popular artist, particularly in the UK. Paul Jones has given him generous exposure on his Radio 2 show, a fact acknowledged from the stage of London's Royal Albert Hall. Then Jones steps up to blow hard harmonica through Your Funeral My Trial. There's also the matter of another major guest player: Eric Clapton joins Bonamassa for an axe-duel during Further on Up the Road. Amidst the ensuing rollin' and tumblin', it's kinda hard to tell them apart as they scorch up the stage.
This two-disc set was recorded in May 2009, the sold-out status of the RAH underlining Bonamassa's full arrival as a blues star. The key to this swift connection with the public might be the way he astutely maintains the blues-purity elements of his sound, at the same time as courting a more mainline rock-anthem grandeur. Bonamassa reaches two distinct crowds, capitalising on the fact that these camps frequently overlap in their tastes.
Django makes a suitably scene-setting opener, the sun rising as a flock of Harleys moves out across the Arizona endlessness. Or maybe a lone rocker lies hunched over a bar, flagon clutched in his oily talons. No fretting, as The Ballad of John Henry soon tramples all such reveries underfoot with its sludge rockin' momentum. There's a Kashmir lumbering that's only the first of Bonamassa's recurring Led Zeppelin motifs. That very combo must surely be his greatest influence, although there are also meaty hunks of Hendrix, not to mention the many hardcore bluesmen to be found on Bonamassa's record collection shelves.
Last Kiss has a trundling pulse that recalls Golden Earring's Radar Love, then So Many Roads is a prime example of Bonamassa's high, soulful vocal delivery, borne on waves of excess, as the twin drums of Anton Fig and Bogie Bowles pummel alongside surging keyboards and a punchy three-piece horn section. When Woke Up Dreaming arrives, there's even the chance for a semi-acoustic display of silvery cascading. Disc one's penultimate track is Sloe Gin, which has become Bonamassa's signature slowie, massed cigarette lighters held aloft as its crescendo cometh.
Disc two gushes with much the same alternation of moods. The spiralling guitar solos continue, the horns hit hard, and the riffing maintains an unstoppable forward motion. There are shades of David Gilmour on The Great Flood and more Led Zep quotes during ZZ Top's Just Got Paid. Bonamassa deftly shunts between cathartic blow-outs and sensitive washes of melodic emotion. And this is the key to his success.