On firing this album up my media player displayed “Artist unknown” leaving me to muse that, after 27 years playing to the world of Blues audiences, there can’t be very many Blues music fans who haven’t heard him, heard of him or formed an opinion as to his place in the pantheon. We’ve had albums, live albums from many of the greatest venues in the world, collaborations with the likes of Glenn Hughes, Beth Hart and Rock Candy Funk Party as well as having him play venues as diverse as Mr Kyps in Poole, Royal Albert Hall and Shepherds Bush Empire (just in the UK – his list worldwide is incredible).
I think though that this is the first time he has strayed right outside his comfort zone, playing with an all acoustic nine-piece band and played it in front of a capacity crowd at New York’s Carnegie Hall.
The concert was part of a special all-acoustic tour and featured an all-star ensemble of world-class musicians. Acclaimed Chinese cellist and erhuist Tina Guo, who's repertoire stretches from classical to heavy metal; and Hossam Ramzy, the Egyptian percussionist and composer, who has performed on dozens of film soundtracks and records, including on Jimmy Page and Robert Plant’s No Quarter: Unledded Tour. The line-up is completed with Reese Wynans (piano), Anton Fig (Drums) Eric Bazilian (mandolin, hurdy-gurdy, saxophone, acoustic guitar, vocals), and three Australian backing vocalists, Mahalia Barnes, Juanita Tippins and Gary Pinto. If memory serves Wynans, Fig, Bazilian and the three ladies form the heart of the band he played with at RAH this year.
In the main, the material is familiar with numbers such as ‘This Train’, ’Driving Towards The Daylight’, ‘Black Lung Heartache’ among the rest but the feel of the music is very different. Not lighter, even though there are no electric instruments, but further towards soul and away from Blues and it definitely benefits from it. The way that a beautiful version of ‘Mountain Time’ is followed by the classic ‘How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times And Live’ (complete with superb backing vocals) shows much of Bonamassa’s abilities.
One of my personal favourites is ‘Hummingbird’, led by Reese Wynan’s piano and replete with real soul and passion. I came to this album expecting ‘for completists only’ but it really is far more than that. Bonamaasa comments: "Despite being among the most ambitious things I’ve done – I played with a 9 piece acoustic band – It came out great. It was a typical Joe freak show." He is wrong. This isn’t ‘typical’ just a superb performance captured brilliantly.
Essential for Blues fans and anyone else who digs great music.