Album Remarks & Appraisals:
2010 release from the Blues Rock guitar hero and singer/songwriter. Black Rock was recorded at, and named for, Black Rock Studios in Santorini, Greece. On the album, Bonamassa enlisted the help of some of the best Greek musicians to add a little flavor to a couple of the tracks. Joe also signed up Blues legend B.B. King for a duet on a rendition of the Willie Nelson-penned song, 'Night Life'. B.B. duets with Joe, both vocally and on his famous Lucille guitar. Other tracks appearing on the album Jeff Beck's 'Spanish Boots', Leonard Cohen's poetic 'Bird On A Wire', Otis Rush's 'Three Times A Fool', Bobby Parker's 'Steal Your Heart Away', Blind Boy Fuller's 'Baby, You Gotta Change Your Mind', John Hiatt's 'I Know A Place' and James Clark's 'Look Over Yonders Wall', as well as Bonamassa originals.
"I think I said something similar last release, but I can't believe Joe Bonamassa is only 32 andBlack Rock is his 10th, yes you read that correctly, 10th solo album release. That doesn't include the Bloodline album either... crazy. Last year Joe released in my opinion his finest album to date, The Ballad Of John Henry, not only that he sold out the Royal Albert Hall which he filmed for an awesome live DVD. You would think after such extensive touring and appearances on shows such as Jools Holland he would take a break, but no, not only is Joe currently recording an album with his new project Black Country with Jason Bonham but he has somehow found time to record a new solo album!
Black Rock was recorded at Black Rock Studios, Santorini, Greece hence the album title. It has a few greek influences thrown in such as on the track Bird On A Wire, one of the outstanding tracks on Black Rock, which has a Clarino I believe in the intro and it sounds like a Bazouki and maybe Mandolin in the background fused with drums that sound like John Bonham. This track is actually a cover of the Leonard Cohen track and yet again Joe Bonamassa shows his excellent arrangement skills by transforming not only this track but also Jeff Beck's Spanish Boots and Otis Rush's Three Times A Fool.
One of the highlights on this album is Joe's cover of Willie Nelson's Night Life featuring the always incredible B.B. King, the man who recognised the talent of Joe at an early age. Joe and B.B.'s playing compliment each other well, as do their vocals. I love hearing how different their styles of playing are, B.B. is tasteful and soulful and Joe has more of an aggressive attacking style with a smoking tone.
There are a couple of tracks on this album, Three Times A Fool and Look Over Yonders Wallthat reminded me of Clapton, both in tone and playing. It is amazing what a Chameleon Joe is. Joe plays slide on a track called When The Fire Hits The Sea which at first I thought he sounded like Derek Trucks on then I realised, no he sounds like Joe Bonamassa with thick creamy tone and phrasing that draws on classic blues slide players mixed with modern influences.
I can't review this album without making some Led Zeppelin references, Joe is obviously a fan and has even recently formed a band with the late Zep drummer John Bonham's son Jason as I have already mentioned. There are a few tracks on this album that obviously draw inspiration from Led Zep and he even seems to replicate some Jimmy Page tones on certain tracks. The openerSteal Your Heart Away for instance, which is a cover of the Bobby Parker track, has a Jimmy Page kind of stomping rock riff and tone but then launches into a solo that would make Eric Johnson himself put his guitar down and weep. Also Blue and Evil, another great track has with some breath-taking guitar playing and a riff that wouldn't be out of place in Kashmir. I'm not saying that the album is ripping off Led Zeppelin I can just hear a lot of influence in Joe's playing, tone and writing which not many people could achieve with such originality and style.
The Ballad Of John Henry was quite an album to try and follow, Black Rock is a great album and an example of great songwriting, arrangements and of course guitar playing and tone. Joe experiments with guitar tone more than most which brings a nice quality to each track, you never tire of hearing that same sound although and yet it is always unmistakably Joe. Is this album better than The Ballad Of John Henry? Well it is difficult to compare because this album has a totally different feel to it. I love The Ballad Of John Henry, it was my favourite album of 2009 chock full of incredible covers and originals. Black Rock doesn't quite have the same initial impact for me but grows on you with each listen and after 10 or so listens start to finish I can say that this is probably going to be one of the most played albums in my iTunes this year.
UPDATE: after being asked whether it is a "...heavy-blues album? or a more melodic one such as the last one?"
Well the answer is a bit of both but it definitely has more of a rock vibe than the last album and has some great dirty heavy blues tracks such as When The Fire Hits The Sea, Three Times A Fool, Wandering Earth (very "Since I've Been Loving You" - Zep). Also a folky old school acoustic blues style track called Athens To Athens. But then it has moments of Rock Blues that will knock you off your feet.
I hope Joe pulls a few of these new tracks out when he plays Sydney next month!" -GuitarNoise
"As guitar heroes go, Joe Bonamassa is something of a talented oddity. He's a one-time child prodigy who opened for his admirer BB King when he was just 12 years old, he's a massive fan of blues-influenced British rockers from the 70s, and he's now developing an interest in wider global styles. The result is a wildly varied album that includes reminders of all the above, but is too often dominated by predictable blues-rock riffs and bursts of rapid-fire solo work, as with his treatment of John Hiatt's I Know a Place or Jeff Beck's Spanish Boots. But flashy stadium rock bombast is thankfully just one part of his repertoire. When he switches to the blues, he shows off the variety in his playing with a charming, slinky acoustic version of Blind Boy Fuller's Baby You Gotta Change Your Mind, a stomping treatment of the Otis Rush song Three Times a Fool, and (best of all) a driving, classy and cheerful reunion with BB King himself on the Willie Nelson classic Night Life. The album was recorded in Greece and the collaborations with Greek musicians include a guitar-and-bouzouki blues, the self-composed Athens To Athens, and a drifting, Mediterranean treatment of Leonard Cohen's Bird On The Wire, featuring wailing Greek clarino. It will be intriguing to see where he goes next." -Guardian
Living Blues (p.74) - "Still a guitarist's guitarist, Bonamassa stretches out from the role of six-string hero to encompass not only a superb sense of song structure but also instrumental exploration."
Mojo (Publisher) (p.105) - 3 stars out of 5 -- "An album of high-quality, hard-wearing blues-rock..."
Uncut (magazine) (p.69) - "A duet with BB King and covers of Otis Rush and Blind Boy Fuller maintain the hardcore blues quotient."
Personnel: Joe Bonamassa (vocals, guitar); Manolis Karadinis (bouzouki); David Woodford (saxophone); Thanasis Vasilopoulos (clarino); Lee Thornburg (brass); Rick Melick (keyboards); Bogie Bowles, Anton Fig (drums, percussion).
Audio Mixer: Kevin Shirley.
Recording information: Black Rock Studios, Santorini, Greece; Document Room; The Cave, Malibu, CA.
Photographer: Kevin Shirley.
Arranger: Lee Thornburg.
It's a sign of Joe Bonamassa's increasing profile that he got blues legend B.B. King to guest on his eighth album Black Rock -- and if what you're doing is good enough to rope B.B. in, there's not much reason to change, so Bonamassa doesn't tinker with his formula here, retaining a little of the folky undertow of The Ballad of John Henry, but with its remaining roots in a thick, heavy blues-rock more redolent of `60s London than the `50s Delta. Of course, Bonamassa has never shied away from his love of Brit-blues, even underscoring it with a good streamlined cover of Jeff Beck's "Spanish Boots," but he retains a healthy respect for all manners of classic blues, kicking out a Chicago groove on a cover of Otis Rush's "Three Times a Fool," reaching back to Blind Boy Fuller for "Baby You Gotta Change Your Mind" and ably replicating B.B.'s latter-day soul groove on a horn-smacked cover of Willie Nelson's "Night Life." Bonamassa has an ear for non-blues writers too, cherrypicking Leonard Cohen's "Bird on a Wire" and John Hiatt's "I Know a Place," tying it all together with beefy lead lines, but the provocative moments on Black Rock are all self-penned, whether it's the clattering stomp "When the Fire Hits the Sea," the British folk lilt of "Quarryman's Lament" and "Athens to Athens," or the droning dramatic epic "Blue and Evil." These are easily the most intriguing songs here, suggesting Bonamassa realizes that the familiar covers allow him to stretch out elsewhere, and while it might be interesting hearing him follow this path for a full album, what's here on Black Rock is both satisfying and admirably, if reservedly, ambitious. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine