Joe Bonamassa’s renowned guitar skills play second fiddle to his rich emotive voice and sumptuous and satisfying unplugged concert souvenir.
Joe Bonamassa Live At Carnegie Hall – An Acoustic Evening
Out Now (Mascot)
Words: Andy Rawll
I wasn’t looking forward to this album at all. What’s the point of a such a supreme exponent of fiery, amped-up lead guitar performing a set of unplugged strum and pickle? How’s that rich, emotive voice going to sound any good when toned down to suit a more polite acoustic style?
What’s remarkable is that my cynicism was confounded on first listen, my ears then awoke to on the repeat second listen and by the third go round, I realised the how wrong I had been.
This is a great album, combining the grace and space of acoustic arrangement with the spirit and fire of the performance of an exceptional band and their glorious leader.
This landmark performance was captured in New York’s hallowed Carnegie Hall in January and presents a captivating mix of familiar and favourite songs rearranged for unplugged delivery and are executed with style and panache.
Backed by the incisive swing of Anton Fig’s drums and Reese Wynans’ pliant piano, it’s the virtuoso sparkle of cellist Tina Guo, the eclectic tones of multi-instrumentalist Eric Bazilian and percussive flair of Hossam Ramzy that provide wonderfully widescreen palette of sound, befitting such an auspicious venue.
Embracing a selection of hollow-bodied mistresses from his six-string harem, Joe focuses on the extended foreplay of his elegant picking and finely syncopated rhythm style, tempering his normally climactic lead guitar style to be more judicious, but not less satisfying, based on the heightened sense of anticipation. In fact, during many of the songs, it’s the power of the Erhu, the two-string Chinese violin, so beguilingly played by Ms Guo, that reveals the sensual soul of the music.
As such, Joe’s renowned guitar skills play second fiddle to his voice, which has never sounded better and has been captured with perfection by producer Kevin Shirley. Whereas, at times during Joe’s fully plugged performances his rich, emotive voice can be overpowered by his searing guitar playing and exuberant band, this largely all-acoustic performance provides the perfect platform to showcase his voice.
The vocal splendour is further enhanced by the glorious backing voices, including the wonderful Mahalia Barnes, particularly on the second half of the performance, for example on ‘How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times And Love?’ and the powerful “don’t fly away” refrain on ‘Hummingbird’.
Most notable is the strength of Joe’s original songs, with the majority of the set based on songs from across his career from the superb country lilt of ‘Mountain Time’ from his early career (2002) album ‘So, It’s Like That’ to the locomotive drive of ‘This Train’ from last year’s ‘Blues Of Desperation’, which provides the great opening trifecta with the lovely swing of ‘Drive’ and the homely country soul of ‘The Valley Runs Low’.
In fact, it’s Joe’s more recent albums that are best represented here, with no room for any tracks from ‘Sloe Gin’ or ‘The Ballad Of John Henry’, yet it’s hard to argue with the song selection here, particularly in the way in which they have been adapted to an all acoustic setting. A stomping version of ‘Dust Bowl’ is a case in point. Quite different in tone and feel to the original album version, but no less familiar or powerful. Ballads such as the beautiful ‘Drive Towards The Daylight’ remain close to their original incarnations, but acquire a deeper resonance in an unplugged setting.
Overall, a surprising and eminently satisfying release, proving Joe’s voice to be as rich and evocative an instrument as his well-loved guitar playing. Visually captivating and sonically supreme, this is a wonderful souvenir of what must have been a magical night.