Live From The Royal Albert Hall

Joe Bonamassa

J&R Records, 2010

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


Blues is very much a live art form. You can lay down searing solos in the studio and sing your heart out, but without the feedback from the crowd and the adrenaline fuel for a performance, a little something is always lost in the translation. From the audience standpoint, seeing the performer’s pain, sweat, and smiles makes the music believable; witnessing the interplay between musicians brings the emotions to life even more.

This trait is what makes blues live albums so special, provided the material is strong, and it is through all of this that Joe Bonamassa’s Royal Albert Hall performance is a success. Amazing guitar work, soulful vocals, and a strong backing band shine through on every single performance. There are a couple of guest performances from Eric Clapton and Paul Jones to round out the show, but Bonamassa is clearly the star.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Bonamassa’s technique builds on the foundation of the early blues guitarists, the English white guys like Jimmy Page and Clapton, and some Stevie Ray Vaughan, but his greatest asset is a near lack of flash, an ego-free approach to solos and songwriting that creates a composition instead of an excuse to solo in the spotlight for 10 minutes. Sure, people may admire Page for a 30 minute “Dazed And Confused,” but who really enjoys listening to it all the way through, and who gets a lot out of him banging the strings with a violin bow? Sober, anyway.

This lack of wankery makes for strong performances throughout, such as the intense, dramatic near-prog of “The Ballad Of John Henry,” the furious acoustic “Woke Up Dreaming,” and the two-step “Last Kiss.” “Blues Deluxe” is a modern take on Zeppelin’s slower blues numbers and one of the few times Bonamassa allows himself to solo extensively before getting to the root of the song, but it sounds great anyway.

Of the 19 songs, seven are from the previous year’s excellent The Ballad Of John Henry and four are from 2006’s You & Me. The first disc is slightly more energetic, while the second has the slower blues numbers, such as “Blues Deluxe” and the stately “Mountain Time,” which would have been a good way to close the show. That honor goes instead to “Asking Around For You,” which goes nowhere fast.

Not every song is memorable, such as “Your Funeral My Trial,” the soundscape “Django,” and the Clapton duet “Stop!,” which is fine but hardly the level of quality one would expect from these two great blues guitarists. But great songs like “Further On Up The Road” and “High Water Everywhere” redeem these, making this not only an excellent live blues showcase but one of the most consistent and best albums Bonamassa has yet released. If you’re not familiar with him, this is a great place to start. If you’re a fan, this is proof that Joe is one of the best guitarists working today.

Rating: B+

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