John Henry, Blue Collar Blues And The Royal Albert Hall: Joe Bonamassa
The story of Joe Bonamassa is a familiar one, at least in blues - rock circles, and one which has been told and retold in numerous articles both online and in print, even by this writer. So much so that one can almost recite it from memory. “Blues guitar prodigy, born in Utica, New York, started playing at age 4, toured with B.B. King by 12…”…stop me if you’ve heard this one before. You have? Okay, let’s fast forward to the more present day. Those of you who haven’t heard the story before can certainly Google it, but the past is the past and only serves to illustrate the path this artist took to become one of the most preeminent blues rock guitarists of modern times.
The fact is, ever since releasing his debut solo album, ‘A New Day Yesterday’ in 2000, Bonamassa has been on the radar of in - the- know fans of blistering blues guitar and has been steadily building an audience ever since. Five more studio albums and two live offerings later, all of which have hit the higher reaches of Billboard’s Blues Charts, with four hitting # 1, his career has been on the rise exponetionally due to growing acceptance of his mix of heavy blues and classic styled rock, putting him on the precipice of a near decade long “overnight success” story.
Although a good portion of the past decade has been spent touring, so much so one of the artist’s official slogans is “Always On The Road”, constant hard work wouldn’t be the be all and end all to success if the music itself wasn’t there. Music history is filled with countless bands who toured until they couldn’t remember what city they were in, but it’s the rare few who inspire the devotion of his fans, some of whom travel across the U.S. and even overseas to witness what have become known as legendary performances, reminiscent of the very finest the genre has ever had to offer.
Continuing into the present, many are crossing the pond for Bonamassa’s sold out show in May at London’s prestigious Royal Albert Hall. A landmark in the guitarist’s career, self described as “Twenty years of professional sweat and toil all culminating into one moment”, it puts him in the company of such heavyweights as The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, The Who and Led Zeppelin as artists who have played the historic venue.
Leading up to this historic performance comes a brand new studio album, the Kevin Shirley (Led Zeppelin, Iron Maiden, Aerosmith, The Black Crowes) produced ‘The Ballad Of John Henry’ released February 24th through J&R Adventures world wide. Quite possibly his strongest offering yet, it shows Bonamassa moving away from the acoustic textures which were a characteristic of 2007’s ‘Sloe Gin’ and back towards a leaner, electric based sound, while at the same time expanding his horizons both musically and compositionally.
Consisting of 12 tracks (13 on the iTunes version), it showcases both the impressive guitar and vocal abilities of the 31 year old as he moves from strength to strength. The album features strong original material highlighting his newly re-discovered songwriting skills, such as on the “Kashmir” meets swampy blues of the title track and the introspective, Santana-esque “Happier Times”. Also containing covers such as Tom Waits’ “Jockey Full Of Bourbon”, Sam Brown’s “Stop” and the Anthony Newley/Leslie Bricusse penned classic “Feelin’ Good”, it’s the song, not the solo which is the driving force at this stage of the game. Albeit slicker and more mature than his earlier more traditional blues-based releases, it’s a combination which has garnered him the highest chart positions of his entire career. Not only did he hit #1 on Billboard’s Blues Charts for the fifth time, so far the album debuted at #103 on Billboard’s Album Charts in the United States and # 26 in the UK Album charts the first week of release — proof positive his audience continues to grow with every new delivery.