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Joe Bonamassa

An Acoustic Evening at the Vienna Opera House


It is what it says on the tin – an acoustic concert featuring JB and some multi-instrumental friends, put together by Joe and Kevin Shirley, and a double album at that. However….what the somewhat formal title of the project fails to convey is the enthralling variety of material that this set includes. Chatting to Joe about the whole thing, he describes it as ‘Worldly Music’ and that isn’t a bad tag because the listener is taken everywhere on styles of playing and atmosphere.
Bonamassa is on good form, making his Martins and other guitars sing, trill and whine as the song might demand, whilst the additional instruments embrace various percussion ( in the hands of master skinsman Lenny Castro, no less!), keyboards, fiddle, banjo, celeste and even nyckelharpa from Swede Mats Wester. The sound quality is crystal clear throughout but pretty deep so not at the expense of colour. If you thought Joe was a mainly blues cat think again, yes there’s blues and slidework but his DiMeola influences see some action…

Highlights – for this reviewer – the filmic ambience and majestic fluid guitar on opener ‘ Arrival’, the brisk hard solo lines on ‘PalmTrees’, the banjo-ish swagger through ‘Jelly Roll’.

The closest I have heard to JB’s acoustic work on the international-sounding selections is the late Michael Hedges, whose ‘Aerial Boundaries’ remains a breathtaking trip around guitar tones and many moods, some dark indeed. Then the desolate feel of ‘Dust Bowl’, with eerie fiddle melody lines, a sinister gypsy march emerging after the first verse . Then the speeding-up train tempo on ‘Slow Train’ – it’s anything but !! – with spirited count-in from Joe into a jagged rhythm ; the dreadful pun of ‘Athens to Athens’  ; the audience realising that ‘John Henry’ is in the setlist, a blues tread of sombre resonance.

The best tune here for me is the Bill Withers-tempoed ‘Dislocated Boy’ with an ace vocal and a bed of congas from Castro, giving a relentless giving a ragged soul chug which hits home, And that’s not all  – from there we get ‘Driving Towards Daylight’ treated with gentle chording and complementary sad fiddle, ‘High Water Everywhere’ rocks the house with its bluesy chordal work and ascending turnaround. Fine Barrelhouse piano introduces a rickety ‘ Jockey Full Of Bourbon’ with emphatic guitar spikery and mournful accordion.  ‘Richmond’ is an ethereal dream of a song, worthy of early Donovan and maybe Joe’s best vocal on the set  ; ‘Black Lung Heartache’ has strong mandolin on a dark folk ballad, insistent and jangling. ‘MountainTime’ is Appalachian in style and instrumentation.

The flamenco-soaked guitar intro to ‘Woke Up Dreaming’ is fleet and mannered, like a Return To Forever solo spot until Joe drills into a speedy passage where the guitar hums in his hands, he gets better and better at these edgy tempo’s. The beatific ‘Sloe Gin’ is kept minimal and all the better for it, a pastoral part of the show’s coda.

So we have masters at work and an impressive setlist that maybe only Bonamassa could put together to this standard. This performance could well appeal to a much wider audience than just guitar players because it’s song-based rather than a show-off exercise. All credit to the other players for their contributions, too

Pete Sargeant

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