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Joe Bonamassa – Different Shades of Blue

September 23rd, 2014
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When Black Country Communion split the different factions went different directions. While Joe Bonamassa returned to “full time solo artist”, Glenn Hughes and Jason Bonham joined forces with guitarist Andrew Watt and created California Breed. The betting at the time was California Breed would be an exciting new band, and Bonamassa would continue to make serviceable, yet sort of boring albums. The betting was wrong. California Breed’s debut album was a dreary 45 minutes of Glenn Hughes screamers, uninteresting and uninspired volume-rock.

Bonamassa, on the other hand, has returned with a fantastic blues album called Different Shades of Blue. The album features Bonamassa playing in various different blues formats and playing guitar better than he ever has. As a player he is, in fact, on fire throughout the album. Vocally, Bonamassa sounds like he learned a few lessons in his time beside Glenn Hughes, and he has a more versatile singing range than he has shown previously.

My hopes were not high for Different Shades of Blue in large part because his last album, Driving Towards the Daylight was so disappointing. Full of mediocre songs that lacked life, my personal expectations were not good that he could re-reach the form of The Ballad of John Henry a few albums back. But things changed when he released the single for the title track a month back. It is a pure guitarists blues song. And Bonamassa is brilliant on it, having a “Since I’ve Been Loving You” performance (guitarists can offer no higher praise). I keep re-listening to it, and I have been trying to figure out, when was the last time an established artist had a song this good? and I can’t come up with the answer. Possibly Springsteen somewhere on The Rising album. Maybe I have to go back as far as 1992 and Delbert McCLinton’s Everytime I Roll The Dice.

But the album doesn’t start and end with Different Shades of Blue. It is the best song, bar none, on an album full of great performances of great songs. Oh Beautiful!, Love Ain’t a Love Song, Heartache Follows Wherever I Go,So, What Would I Do are all excellent. And while some songs do suffer from Bonamassa’s tendency towards feeling soulless, those are few and by no means lousy songs. There is, in fact, not a bad song on the album, and more than a few great ones.

Different Shades of Blue will be released today and can be bought at your usual online sources, but really, run to the store and get it now. It’s simply too good to wait.


Tracklist

Hey Baby (New Rising Sun)
Oh Beautiful!
Love Ain’t a Love Song
Living on the Moon
Heartache Follows Wherever I Go
Never Give All Your Heart
I Gave Up Everything For You
Different Shades of Blue
Get Back my Tomorrow
Trouble Town
So, What Would I Do

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The Freedom of Music: Black Country Communion’s Afterglow

November 4th, 2012
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freedom-of-music-header

One likes to believe in the freedom of music.
Rush – Spirit of Radio.

A random thought passes as I listen to Black Country Communion’s new album Afterglow: with the recent bad blood between bassist Glenn Hughes and guitarist Joe Bonamassa, if Bonamassa was on fire, would Hughes put him out? sidebar-6
Answer, not on Afterglow he doesn’t.
Throughout the band’s third studio album in as many years, Bonamassa’s playing is smoking: Big Train’s wah-wah infused rave up; the white hot solos on Midnight Sun and The Giver; the guitar intro to Midnight Sun; or the slow burning slide on Cry Freedom. Bonamassa lights the album up with his best playing to date with this band. Hughes response is to fuel the flames with a collection of songs of great licks and words that twist and turn, offer loud and soft (light and shade?) moments throughout.

If, as has been allowed as possible through various media outlets, this is the end of the line for Black Country Communion, it will prove to be a great pity. On reviewing their first album, I offered a number of times their influences came to the top, on their second album, I noted less of this. On this album, they sound from start to finish uniquely like themselves. Hey are a band that has found an identity. Moments like the dual Hughes/Bonamassa vocals on Cry Freedom or the tight, super-funky groove Hughes and drummer Jason Bonaham get on the Bonham penned piece Common Man sound like Black Country Communion and no one else.

You can’t talk about Afterglow without also mentioning Derek Sherinian, who takes a greater role than the first two albums, playing a couple of organ solos that are exceptional. His playing throughout is top notch.
Black Country Communion’s Afterglow, which was released Tuesday, is a great rock and roll album that will improve with time and listenings. It is what these guys do best, flat out rock.


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The Freedom of Music: Black Country Communion the Second

June 5th, 2011
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freedom-of-music-header

One likes to believe in the freedom of music.
Rush – Spirit of Radio.

The story of Black Country Communion that the band likes to cite is that they are a 70’s style band. By that they mean, they like to cut the basic song track live off the floor. With their second album, Black Country Communion 2, timed in a very 70’s fashion just ten months after the release of their first album, they join the ranks of 70’s style bands in other ways: the naming of the album and progression of the bands music.
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On their first album influences were obvious and threaded throughout the album. AC/DC, Bad Company, The Who and Iron Maiden where all out front. This time there is much less sounding like other bands, much more development of their own sound. Oh sure, the keyboard and guitar break in The Outsider is pure Yes, and the guitar lick inFaithless is so very close to Alice Cooper’s Devil’s Food. But they are the exception, and BCC2 sounds instead like Black Country Communion. In fact, the Yes style break in the albums first song, The Outsider, announce something is different in this album: keyboard player Derek Sherinian is going to be much more up front.

Glenn Hughes has called this a darker album, and while his songs are definitively edgier and grittier, his singing is more paced. Less an effort to sing hard rock, and more just doing it. Together with Bonham the rhythm section is as tight as the first album. What these two would sound like together if they had spent the last ten months touring together, instead of touring apart, it is frightening to wonder. It is Joe Bonamassa once again, however, that shines. The virtuoso guitar player provides great licks, tasty guitar lines and Paul Rogers-esque vocals. His acoustic showpiece, The Battle for Hadrian’s Wall, is the albums highlight.

But the album is full of highlights: Save Me, rescued from Bonham’s 2008 sessions with Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones; Faithless, dark and mysterious sounding, so hard to not listen to again and again; Man in the Middle, BCC at their hardest; An Ordinary Son, Joe Bonamassa’s brilliant other showcase song; Cold, Glenn Hughes finest moment in his Black Country Communion suit.

With FaithlessColdLittle Secret and, too a lesser degree, The Battle for Hadrian’s Wall, BCC2 has it’s share of slower or softer songs. Yet it is still by any definition, a very hard album, with a gritty edge they only let drop on Hadrian’s Wall.

Black Country Communion 2 is a solid album from beginning to end, with no unlistenable music or weak songs. Hughes and Bonamassa are in good voice, and the four very talented musicians are solid and tight. It may not quite be 70’s rock, but it’s the closest thing you’ll hear these days by a large margin.

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The song Save Me has been much talked about as having come from the Led Zeppelin sessions of 2008. “I brought that lick to from the 2008 sessions…” Jason Bonham told an interviewer. “You’ll hear it in the lick.”

At 7:42, it is the albums second longest track, featuring a spacey and slow introduction, Glenn Hughes singing over a sustained guitar chord and arpeggiated keyboard. Once the lick comes in you can hear what Bonham the younger is talking about. The Zeppelin is in the song sure enough, and you can hear the son in the drummer, with a steady solid groove backing up the guitar. In the chorus, guitarist Bonamassa, a Jimmy Page devotee himself, slips on the wah-wah pedal in a way Page might have. And the solo is certainly in the vein of Page, channelling Achilles Last Stand.

It is in the bridge, however, that the song really takes on a Zeppelin feel, as the keyboards have the tone and sound of John Paul Jones keyboard bridge in Kashmir.

Save Me, the song that emerged from the 2008 “Led Zeppelin sessions,” truthfully sounds like a Black Country Communion song, that gives a nod to Led Zeppelin, in much the same was Crossfire, later in the album, seems to give a nod to Yes (I didn’t know Glenn Hughes even owned a Rickenbacker). None the less, it provides an interesting historical peek at what might have emerged from those sessions.

Based on the evidence at hand, it’s a pity they never saw the light of day.


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The Freedom of Music: 2010 in Music

January 2nd, 2011

freedom-of-music-header

One likes to believe in the freedom of music.
Rush – Spirit of Radio.

Another year has come to an end, and it seems a good time to have a quick peek backwards and see what the year past in music was like. So here’s the Billboard top 10 of 2010:

  • Taylor Swift
  • Susan Boyle
  • Glee: Soundtrack
  • Jackie Evancho
  • Michael Jackson
  • Jamie Foxx
  • Eminem
  • Nicki Minaj
  • Keyshia Cole
  • Rhianna

I was right, that was quick. Not much to see, or hear, here.

But wait. BestEverAlbums.com says Arcade Fire’s Suburbs was the top album of 2010. In fact, I’ve seen any number of lists, and Billboards is the first not to include the Canadian bands third album fairly well up the list. That’s not a bad choice, a decent album written as “ a letter from the suburbs.” Actually, something that we haven’t seen a lot of recently, a concept album.

Not a rock opera format mind you, not an album that must be played first to last. That idea just doesn’t work in the CD era, never mind MP3s. But certainly it’s an album in which each song is part of a greater theme. And while it’s not as good as their second album, Neon Bible, it’s a decent representation of the year in music.

Then there’s Billboards number 15, Kid Rock’s Born Free. I confess I hate that I like Kid Rock. He seems like such an unpleasant human being, yet he writes songs that delve into the spirit of the human condition with some dexterity. On 2010’s Billboard number 15 album, Kid Rock eschews the cheap rap songs with the potty lyrics and falls very comfortably into the country rock vein. Like I said, I hate that I like it, but I do, none the less.

Coming in the middle of both charts top 100 is the Kings of Leon Come Around Sundown, at 45 in Billboard and 53 on Best Ever Albums. Kings of Leon broke through a few years ago with their Only By the Night album, including the hit Sex on Fire. Once again, this years album doesn’t match the previous effort, but it’s still a good collection of songs.

At the end of the day, however, scouring the charts for quality music is to lose yourself in the misguided hope that the Billboard music chart would know good music in any guise. Finding quality new music in the Billboard charts is like finding quality writing on network TV: not in this decade. A chart of 200 albums that includes Thriller, because that’s not so 1984, a number of Glee’s and Mariah Carey’s 2nd Christmas collection somehow misses completely the best album of the last few years. Journey’s Greatest Hits circa 1988 – check: The Beatles, half of whom have been dead for ten and thirty years – check: Frank Sinatra Greatest Hits – yup. All these albums of completely different vintages make it, but the wonderfully hard rockin’ yet melodic Black Country Communion, released in the year of our lord 2010 is nowhere to be found.


Consisting of a rhythm section of Glenn Hughes, ex-of Deep Purple among others and Jason Bonham, Black Country Communion is so solid on the bottom end a monkey could play guitar and sound good. Instead, they chose Joe Bonamassa, more virtuoso than monkey and one of the finest blues/rock guitarists playing today. His guitar playing is some of the finest, the tastiest playing I’ve heard in years. Topped off with keyboardists Derek Sherinian of Kiss and Alice Cooper fame, BCC produced the best album of 2010, and possibly the best in the past couple of years.

The good news is, Black Country Communion is going back into the studio in January, so Billboard has a chance to get it right again in 2011. Not that I think they will, or care: as long as Black Country Communion keeps putting out music of the quality they did this year, Billboard can put Thriller in it’s top 200 for the 27th year. I know what album I’ll buy.

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Black Country Communion Review

September 14th, 2010

All the work of blogging occasionally pays off, and in most unexpected coin. Through another blog I keep up, Ramble On, I was advanced a copy of the new “supergroup” Black Country Communion’s debut CD. I’ve been listening for four days now, and absolutely love this CD.

My review is in. Be sure to read it all, but here’s some highlights:

I woke up this morning with a part of a song stuck in my head… It is the latter song I can’t shake today. Specifically, it is the part of the song when the band comes out of the chorus: they have built up to a great crescendo, Glenn Hughes voice straining, Marshalls at 11 and they transition to guitarist Joe Bonamassa coming in with a tasty little guitar lick, bringing the band back down a notch. It is such a sweet, melodic little line: one of those moments when the music seems to sigh…

Joe Bonamassa on guitar, Glenn Hughes on bass and vocals, Jason Bonham on drums and Derek Sherinian on keyboards. Each has an impressive pedigree, each shines in their own way on the debut, self titled, album. The rhythm section carry song after song with pounding regularity. Derek Sherinian offers subtle touches of 70’s era keyboards, adding ambiance and feel, never taking over. And Joe Bonamassa is brilliant, his licks imaginative without overplaying…

At 73 minutes long, it would be my normal MO to complain that Black Country Communion is too long, anything over standard LP length of 45 minutes being an extravagance…

… this would be the first album where I would be tempted to give five stars…

As it is, Black Country Communion is the best post-Zeppelin work of anyone associated with Led Zeppelin.

Black Country Communion will be released Tuesday Sept 21


Black Country Communion

1. Black Country 3:15
2. One Last Soul 3:52
3. The Great Divide 4:45
4. Down Again 5:45
5. Beggarman 4:51
6. Song of Yesterday 8:33
7. No Time 4:18
8. Medusa 6:56
9. The Revolution in Me 4:59
10. Stand (At The Burning Tree) 7:01
11. Sista Jane 6:54
12. Too Late For the Sun 11:21

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Cool For Cats Friday’s

September 10th, 2010
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I am really liking what I have been hearing of the new “Supergroup” Black Country Communion, with Jason Bonham, Derek Sherinian, Glenn Hughes and Joe Bonamassa. Their first single, One Last Soul, is available for free download on their website (use the promo code OLS2010). It is excellent.

Then last week a video of them “recording,” The Great Divide, was released. Lets call it an easy 2 for 2:

In July 1966, myself, my brother and my mother jumped on a puddle hopper from Ireland to Scotland, and from Scotland came to Canada, where my father had arrived, found a job and set up a home three months earlier. The story is a family legend: mom almost didn’t come. Husband or no husband, Ireland was home. Standing at the airport,  surrounded by family, she was having doubts. Then my grandfather took me by the hand and led my brother and myself to the plane. Dazed, mom followed us kids. My energetic brother, and me, dragging a teddy bear almost as big as me. A good story, a yarn, even perhaps. I have told the teddy bear story for years, and always wondered how accurate it was.

Last Friday, I found out. Not the day, not the event, but the very moment of my grandfather taking me to the plane was caught on film.  For the first time in my life, 43 years later, I saw this picture last week.

leaving-ireland


In case your wondering, the Teddy Bear is still around: both of my kids played with it. He lives at my mother in laws place, along with all the grandkids favourite stuffed animals.

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