Joe Bonamassa - 'Live At Carnegie Hall - An Acoustic Evening'

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Joe Bonamassa - 'Live At Carnegie Hall - An Acoustic Evening'

A double disc acoustic affair recorded over two nights at New York's legendary Carnegie Hall.

Way back in the mists of time, or 2007 to be exact, Joe Bonamassa had something of a career changing epiphany; "We went on after Steely Dan at the North Sea Jazz Festival outside of Amsterdam", he told 'Grammy', "thirty seconds after we started, I realised "geez, 'Kid Charlemagne' is still ringing in the room, and we're on". I don't have any songs". That was the beginning of an eight or nine year quest to amass material that really connects to people".

Given that he's one of today's finest exponents of electric guitar wizardry, it's perhaps inevitable Bonamassa's six-string prowess always grabs the headlines. What often goes unnoticed is just what a fine song-writer he's developed into over the last decade.

That much is abundantly clear when listening to his latest live album, a double disc acoustic affair recorded over two nights at New York's legendary Carnegie Hall. Stripped of Les Paul pyrotechnics and the ear-shaking wall of sound his band create, Bonamassa's material takes a starring role and proves that great songs can be presented in a variety of ways.

Not that is his first unplugged rodeo, and fans may be wondering how it differs from his previous acoustic release – 2013's 'Live At The Vienna Opera House'. Where the shows that led to that recording were Bonamassa's first in such a format, he's done plenty of stripped down performances since and, as a result, this effort sounds noticeably more assured and adventurous.

Joined by seasoned musicians from around the globe, Bonamassa and his nine-piece band weave a worldly sonic tapestry that makes for a bigger sonic production than the Vienna gig, with backing vocalists, mandolin, Hurdy-Gurdy, saxophone, cello and more helping to reinvent some of his finest cuts.

'Dust Bowl' and its infectious chorus is given a Folk Rock stomp that's propelled by Anton Fig's irrepressible beats. 'Black Lung Heartache' resembles an imperious soundtrack to a Medieval film, the Eastern menace of 'Blue And Evil' pumps out a swinging chorus embellished by bopping backing vocals, and smoky Jazz number 'Livin' Easy' smoulders more than ever.

By unplugging and gifting his lyrics and arrangements room to breathe, as well as adding some delectable instrumental textures, there's an extra emotional resonance to Bonamassa's material. Exotic spices colour the brooding 'Drive', making its misty-moonlit journey hauntingly profound, whereas 'Driving Towards The Daylight' combines weeping cello and banjo to become a mournful Bluegrass number buoyed by spiritual harmonies, and 'The Valley Runs Low' offers soul-saving backing vocals and breezy Country redemption.

As the concert draws to a close, Bonamassa inevitably rolls out some excellent covers, with the highlight being a cracking take on Blind Alfred Reed's Great Depression protest song 'How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times And Live'. It's a splendid showcase for both his impressive backing singers and the wonderful piano work of Reese Wynans.

Perhaps the most telling aspect of this concert is how many great songs don't feature. There's no 'Ballad Of John Henry', 'Dislocated Boy', 'How Deep This River Runs' or 'Happier Times'. The fact they're not missed speaks volumes about the strength of Joe Bonamassa's song-writing and growing depth of his back catalogue. In other words, heaven help anyone following him on stage in 2017.

Simon Ramsey

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