Joe Bonamassa and Kevin Shirley have a good thing going. Each year they get together for a few weeks and record a new album. I don’t know how they do it, but they’ve got the process down to a science. Which is not to say that the records sound rushed. On the contrary, Shirley seems to be able to push Bonamasssa a little further with each new release, and Bonamassa’s signature sound gets more refined.
Recorded in picturesque Santorini, Greece, Black Rock* is the next chapter of the Shirley/Bonamassa collaboration. At the start of the recording sessions, Shirley had Joe record using a Telecaster directly into small amps to force Bonamassa out of his Les Paul/Marshall comfort zone. Additionally, Greek folk musicians were brought in to play with Joe. You can read more about the recording process here.
Like Bonamassa’s previous solo albums, Black Rock contains a mixture of original tunes and covers. Joe wrote 5 of the 13 tracks on the album. As I’ve mentioned before, Joe has a way of taking songs written by other people and making them his own. On Black Rock, Joe covers songs by Jeff Beck, John Hiatt, Otis Rush, Willie Nelson, Leonard Cohen, Blind Boy Fuller, and James Clark. Joe is also joined by special guest B.B. King on the Willie Nelson tune “Night Life.”
The album starts off with a couple of heavier blues tunes, “Steal Your Heart Away” followed by “I Know a Place.” These songs set a nice tone for the album. Vocally, Joe seems to be stretching himself further with each album. Musically, Joe’s in excellent form. His recorded guitar tones are some of my favorite, and Black Rock continues that tradition.
I really enjoy Joe’s slide playing, but the slide hasn’t been prominently featured on one of his albums for several years. Fortunately, the third song on the album, “When the Fire Hits the Sea”, changes that by featuring a very nice slide solo.
Next is “Quarryman’s Lament”, which is presumably a response to “Story of a Quarryman” from Joe’s last album The Ballad of John Henry. “Quarryman’s Lament” is a slow, dirge-like number that features some excellent acoustic playing by Joe.
“Spanish Boots” is a Jeff Beck tune, and Bonamassa’s version is quite a bit different than Beck’s version. In my opinion, Beck’s version is more laid back than Bonamassa’s version, which is more upfront and in your face. Both versions are excellent, but I think I like Bonamassa’s version a little better.
I was a little surprised to see Joe cover a Leonard Cohen tune, but his version of “Bird on a Wire” is excellent. I’ve never heard the original, so I can’t compare them, but I really like Joe’s version. It’s probably the slowest song on the album and is a nice bridge between “Spanish Boots” and the bluesier “Three Times a Fool.”
“Three Times a Fool” is one of the more traditional blues songs on the album. To me, this song evokes the blues of the 50s and 60s. Joe seems to be using a 335-style guitar on this track, which contributes to the more classic sound compared to his more rock-oriented tracks. “Night Life” also falls into the category of more traditional blues, even though it’s a cover of a Willie Nelson tune. Of course, B.B. King helps contribute to the more traditional sound. I like their take on the tune. Again, I’ve never heard the original, so I can’t compare this version to the original.
After “Night Life” is “Wandering Earth”, which is a slow, but heavy blues that has some of the best guitar tones on the album. This is an original Bonamassa tune and is one of my favorites on the album.
“Look Over Yonders Wall” is a mid-tempo blues number that is a cover of a James Clark tune. Joe plays a couple of fiery solos in this tune.
“Athens to Athens” is a slow, Greek-infused song that features the Greek musicians more prominently than most of the other songs. I was curious to see how the Greek musicians would fit into Joe’s style of music, and I think Shirley did a good job in where he placed them on the album. A nice touch resulting in an interesting addition to the album.
“Blue and Evil” is the first publicly available song from Black Rock. It starts off with an acoustic riff that morphs into a heavy blues riff. This tune features great guitar tones and another fiery guitar solo from Joe.
The final track on the album is an acoustic blues cover of a Blind Boy Fuller song titled “Baby You Gotta Change Your Mind.” Compared to the rest of the album, this track is a bit of a departure, and I can see why it’s included last. However, I really like Joe’s take on the song, and it’s a fun way to end the album. It’s a more intimate song prominently featuring Joe’s vocals and guitar playing with little other instrumentation.
With Black Rock, Joe Bonamassa and Kevin Shirley have got another great album to add to Bonamassa’s already impressive discography. Very few other modern artists are playing blues/rock music like this, and Bonamassa remains at the top of his game with this album. If you’re already a fan, you’ll love this album. If you’re new to Bonamassa’s music, Black Rock provides a nice introduction to the variety in his music, not to mention the great collection of songs.
The full track listing of Black Rock is:
1. Steal Your Heart Away
2. I Know a Place
3. When the Fire Hits the Sea
4. Quarryman’s Lament
5. Spanish Boots
6. Bird on a Wire
7. Three Times a Fool
8. Night Life
9. Wandering Earth
10. Look Over Yonders Wall
11. Athens to Athens
12. Blue and Evil
13. Baby You Gotta Change Your Mind
Black Rock will be available in the U.S. on March 23, 2010.
* The Amazon.com links within this review are affiliate links. I receive a small commission if you purchase the album through this link, which helps me pay to host this site. That being said, I really like this album and wouldn’t recommend it otherwise.
Ed Pauley says
I downloaded the free song, Blue and Evil. The ongoing lead pattern as well as the chord arrangement in-between are really nice. If you can imagine Robert Plant singing the vocals, it would sound like Led Zeppelin during their Physical Graffiti period. I can’t wait for the whole Black Rock album to be released.
Yep, there’s some definite Zeppelin inspiration on the album. I think you’ll enjoy it.
I also downloaded the tune “Blue and Evil” and loved it. I saw Joe live last year for the first time. I really appreciate his ‘fresh approach’ to blues and it’s fusion to rock. His style, mixed with the fresh recording style exemplified on “Black Rock” really captures the essence of Joe. “Black Rock” came by mail last week, and I’ve already played it numerous times in my car. I’ve also purchased the three live DVDs of performances, including Royal Albert Hall in London–what a show! Several friends are drawn to the emotion in his music, just like I was. There are many more ‘converts’ to his approach to music as a result. I look forward to future live events, and future recordings that are as quality-oriented as this one.
Received the album via pre-sale yesterday. Played it repeatedly all last night and today. Great work. As a guitar player for 40 years, I am in awe as I have been with each of his albums.
Kent R. Colbert, Ph.D. says
JB has been drifting towards ZEP since his cover of “tea for one.” (which by the way smokes the original) While some of blues purists fans are unhappy, he has the balls to tell the big corporate labels he’d rather work his ass off, play what he wants to play, and show every musician why greatest is being true to yourself, not theb $$$$. Of course, he’s been fortunate to be tutored by the MASTERS, (B.B. King tops the list), and he evolves with every release and performance. He is now a lean mean guitar machine. My only negative comment is he didn’t include the song I handed to him at Sam Ash, Atlanta:) I have had the honor of meeting him a few times now, and he is clearly a great person who loves his craft, is humble, and simply the nicest guy you’ll ever meet. His Mom and Pops did good and should be praised. Lastly, he told me it’s 10% gift, 10% luck, and 80% work and practice, so true, talent isthe desire to practice. He is an American Treasure. I listened to his latest single from Black Rock, and it gave me goose bumps, as all of his songs do. Can’t wait until the others arrive. JB is the real deal!
Kent Colbert just about says it all for me as well. He’s the real deal ,nice, humble, great work ethic, treats the fans like friends-we’ve met him before also. He just keeps on getting better and his catalog shows his incredible imagination musically.I am still playing his musis EVERY day because his joy is contageous. I know some day without a doubt that he will be the greatest, most talented blues-rock artist on the planet, and hopefully I’m around for that day. It shouldn,t be to long of a wait that’s for sure.Lynn.
Clay Teague says
I have been listening to the album since it arrived in my mail box. I ordered it on March 8th and reveived it on March 13th. I went to the basement and put in my CD player and played ‘Steal Your Heart Away’. I loved it. Back in February I down loaded ‘Blue and Evil’ and thought it was also a great rock song. I am a Joe Bonamassa fan and have all of his CD’s. I do love the rock style and hard blue song. My car has Black Rock in the CD player most of the time. Hey and thanks Joe for send your fans Black Rock early off your web-site. Black Rock is a great CD.
Thanks to everyone for stopping by! While I’ve never met Joe, I’ve heard many people talk about how down to earth and nice he is. I’ve seen him live three times, and each time has been better than the last. I’m anxiously looking forward to his fall tour, which I hope runs through Nashville. Black Rock has been in my CD player more than any other CD since I received my copy. Joe is truly an example of hard work paying off.
nacho pacheco says
I GOT MY CD ALREADY AND MY SCORE IS 10…ENJOY IT ..THANKS JOE
Bravo Joe Bravo , Haven’t stopped listening to the new one “Black Rock” and it is another great production by JB and his crew! His music will implode everyone with a great sense of joy and happiness. One of the Greatest Blues/Rocker and he keeps getting better and better. Rock on Joe. Cant wait to see you again.
J Rose says
Just fresh from seeing Joe live at the Moore Theater in
Seattle> I’m a man well past 21 and have seen many musicians over the years—this guy has very few equals in his trade. I’ve seen him live many times and watched him grow into who he is today and I’m sure that in the end he will be top of the heap. Flying to D. C. to see him there in April.
Thank God for Joe Bonamassa!. There’s not a lot of music out there worth the $, and less that have passion and soul. Joe, I’m excited to hear you’re working with Glenn Hughes, but I hope you never stop recording and playing your own material. I have every one of your CDs and Black Rock is just a great addition to the collection. Your music has kept me company while I have been building an addition to my house. It’s kept me motivated and made the entire process more enjoyable.
Got “Black Rock” last Friday and have been listening since then! Love most of the songs, have to get used to the Greek influences and I’m definitely looking forward to seeing Joe five times in Europe this year!
Ian R. says
Black Rock is excellent, as I heard it for the first time yesterday after hearing a few songs live in Seattle at the Moore.It was my 5th time seeing Joe, this time with the wife who saw him live for the first time and instantly became a new fan.
I have met him twice before in Seattle after driving down from Langley B.C. and he is a great guy to talk to to. Like the other guy who saw the show at the Moore, I have seen him grow musically as well and it’s been amazing to see the transition from what he was to where he is today!
Love the album and if that’s true that he’s working with Glenn Hughes, I can hardly wait for the next one!
Simply the best period
The first time that I saw Joe was at an outside venue. Everyone there, myself included, knew that we were experiencing musical genius at work. That was six concerts ago. My how that boy has grown. My next Joe fix will be at the Egg in Albany, NY. The Egg is supposed to be acoustically perfect. Can’t wait. Bird on a wire is such a gem. Leonard Cohen has been such an under appreciated talent. Like Joe, when you see Cohen, you are in the prescence of greatness. Since I received Black Rock, I have continued to mine the treasures of greatness. Everytime that I listen to BOW from 3:45 to 4:45 my jaw still drops.
VINNIE R. says
WORDS JUST CAN NOT EXPLAIN HOW AWESOME JB IS.THE 1ST TIME I HEARD HIM WAS ON SIRIUS RADIO.I WENT TO SEE HIM IN JACKSONVILLE FLA 5/08.I WAS SIMPLY FLOORED.I SEE HIM EVERY CHANCE I CAN.APRIL 21ST REDBANK N.J.IS NEXT.HE NEEDS HIS DESERVE AMONG THE BEST EVER.I KNOW THATS A BOLD STATEMENT,BUT IF YOU KNOW ANY NON BELIEVERS……SHOW THEM SLOE GIN AND WOKE UP DREAMING FROM THE ROYAL ALBERT HALL.IF THEY STILL DO NOT BELIEVE,THEY DO NOT KNOW MUSIC………………
Johnny Joseph says
I’ve been a die hard Bonamassa fan since I saw him touring to support “You And Me”. Met him, bought him drinks, hell, he even signed my 100 year old Gibson L2 at soundcheck one time. I’ve always liked the way he and Kevin Shirley sounded together and since acquiring almost everything he’s released on vinyl (sounds waaaaay better) I thought they had it nailed. After the first few listens, I did not like the sound on Black Rock save for “Night Life” which I think is his best song ever. However, it finally dawned on me what they had been trying to achieve. This album sounds like Led Zeppelin’s first album. Very “live” sounding, and crude in it’s “in your face” sound. I’ve grown to love it more and more and every song continues to grow on me. Cant’ wait to see who he jams with at Crossraods. I’m flyin’ cross country for that one. Enjoy Black Rock. It’s a KILLER!