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Joe Bonamassa hits No. 1 with ‘British Blues Explosion Live’

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American guitar wolf in London Joe Bonamassa debuts at No. 1 for the 20th time.

Clapton, Beck, and Page. Iconic names that should never fade from recognition. Joe Bonamassa and his band do their part by paying monumental tribute to the three British godfathers of guitar on the double-disc “British Blues Explosion Live,” recorded at The Old Royal Naval College on July 7, 2016.

Straightforward blues gets a heavy-duty licking across these 14 songs, all but one of them placed in the blues-rock annals by Eric Clapton and his associations, Jeff Beck, or Jimmy Page and Led Zeppelin. During a thankfully unpredictable set, Bonamassa also tips his guitar neck to the writers and original musicians behind the songs. Guitarist George Terry played super second fiddle to Clapton in the 1970s, his “Mainline Florida” a highlight of the “461 Ocean Boulevard” album.

Joe BonamassaHere the raucous rocker elicits the same instant excitement. Bonamassa’s guitar always reverberated with a similar soulfulness to Clapton’s, some of Beck’s steeliness, and traces of Page’s liquid fire. He melded all three inspirations beautifully this night. The tough band — bassist Michael Rhodes, keyboardist Reese Wynans, drummer Anton Fig, and rhythm guitarist/background vocalist Russ Irwin — made the songs come alive with newfound authority, but without ever detracting from the familiarity of the signature performance.

For instance, the psychedelic barrage of Cream’s “SWLABR,” an under-heralded Jack Bruce/Pete Brown gem, completely erases 50 years in just over six minutes. Bonamassa’s emotional vocal even lives up to that of the late, one-of-a-kind Bruce—no small feat indeed. During the scorching rendition of Clapton and John Mayall’s “Double Crossing Time,” from the 1966 debut “Bluesbreakers” album, Bonamassa practically tears the outdoor courtyard in two with his guitar.

Zeppelin comes to the fore quickly in the piano-rollicking “Boogie with Stu,” albeit with slightly more gleam than the original, but in a good way. Zep’s powerful version of Willie Dixon’s “I Can’t Quit You Baby” gets blended imaginatively with the more somber Jimmy Page-Robert Plant blues, “Tea For One.” Rod Stewart, Nicky Hopkins, and Ron Wood’s “Plynth (Water Down the Drain),” from Beck’s second solo album, absolutely explodes in a torrent of inventive melodies.

As is the case with any of Bonamassa’s rapidly growing album catalog, the production places the event right there, crystal clearly. “British Blues Explosion Live” marks Bonamassa’s 20th No. 1 debut on the Billboard Blues Album Chart. Many valid reasons for that distinction are lit up brightly, right here, by this American guitar wolf in London.

– Tom Clarke

Related story: Duane Betts – “Sketches of American Music.”

  • Joe Bonamassa
    ‘British Blues Explosion Live’
    Release: May 18, 2018
    Label: J&R Adventures
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About Tom Clarke

From pre-war blues to the bluegrass of the Virginia hills, Tom Clarke has a passion for most any kind of deep-rooted American music, and has been writing about it for 20 years. He’s particularly fond of anything from Louisiana, and the 45-year timelines and ever-growing family trees of The Allman Brothers Band and Los Lobos.Tom’s reviews and articles have appeared in BluesPrint, the King Biscuit Times, Hittin’ The Note, Blues Revue, Elmore, Blues Music Magazine, and now, Tahoe Onstage.Tom and his wife Karen raised four daughters in upstate New York. They split their time between the Adirondack Mountains and coastal South Carolina.

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