Rev. Keith A. Gordon – Blues Deluxe
The Joe Bonamassa Buying Guide
Blues fans will surely recognize the name Rev. Keith A. Gordon, a noted writer and reviewer for a variety of publications. He also authored fourteen other books on music topics, including buying guides on Stevie Ray Vaughan, Bruce Springsteen, and Frank Zappa, plus a three volume series that looks at Delta, Chicago and Blues-Rock forms of blues music. Rollin’ ‘n’ Tumblin’, released two years ago, complies more than one hundred record and book reviews the author has written.
For his latest effort, Gordon takes a dive into the extensive output over the last seventeen years from guitarist Joe Bonamassa. Many people have strong opinions about Bonamassa as a musician and as a blues artist. One undeniable fact is that Bonamassa and his crack team have found ways to build his brand, establish a devoted fan base, and feed those fans a steady stream of high quality releases that highlight the various aspects of his artistry. Like him or not, many musicians could benefit from studying Bonamassa’s marketing techniques in order to gain insights into growing their own careers.
The first one hundred pages of the guide take an overview of Bonamassa’s career with sections specific to his studio albums, live recordings & DVDs, Band/Duo albums, and other recordings that do not fit any of those categories. Each section lists the release, the release date, musicians playing on the record, and a track list, followed by a brief over view from Gordon. The Studio section covers twelve titles from a mere sixteen year span, starting with the debut recording, A New Day Yesterday, from October, 2000. The author chronicles Bonamassa’s growth as a vocalist and songwriter while never failing to point out Bonamassa’s formidable guitar skills. Along with producer Kevin “Caveman” Shirley, the guitarist consistently finds a potent combination of originals and covers that hits home with his fans around the world, allowing his Black Rock album to finish at #39 on the 2010 Billboard Top 200 list.
As impressive as his studio output is, it is astounding that the guitarist also had fifteen live albums released in the same time period. While playing top-notch venues like the Royal Albert Hall, the Beacon Theatre, and the Vienna Opera House, Bonamassa sometimes delivers live versions of a studio album, while on others he mixes things up with songs from various stages of his career. Gordon’s notes help readers sort their way through the extensive collection, providing enough clarity that fans can pinpoint which live releases would hold the most appeal. The output includes a memorable series of four recordings from four nights, four different venues, and four different bands.
The Band/Duo section focuses on Bonamassa’s work with Black Country Communion, Beth Hart, and Rock Candy Funk Party. BBC is a hard rock band with Jason Bonham, son of John Bonham of Led Zeppelin fame, on drums, and Glenn Hughes, former lead singer for Deep Purple and Black Sabbath, on vocals. The four projects Hart did with Bonamassa helped elevate her to star status, with their Black Coffee album from this year rising to #7 on the UK charts. Some readers may not be familiar with Rock Candy Funk Party, as the guitarist joins a group of veterans based in Los Angeles for four recordings that venture away from blues into a soulful amalgamation at the intersection of rock and jazz. Gordon also touches on Bloodlines, a 1994 release that was Bonamassa’s first at the age of sixteen, the band comprised of the sons of famous musicians.
The Album review section has over sixty pages of Gordon’s assessments of Bonamassa’s work, featuring reviews previously run in various publications. As a rule, the reviews are quite complimentary, with frequent references to the Zeppelin legacy. At times, Gordon’s praise borders on hyperbole, and equating Hart’s vocals to Etta James or Koko Taylor is stretching things a bit. Still, Gordon’s comments point out the differences in the releases, again allowing readers to select which albums might hold the most appeal if they don’t want to spring for the entire Bonamassa collection, a considerable financial undertaking.
The last seven pages reprise an interview Gordon did with Bonamassa that originally ran in the September, 2011 edition of Blues Revue Magazine. It provides the guitarist with some space to sum up his reactions to his career at that point, in addition to adding a few personal insights into his recordings.
All in all, Gordon has done an admirable job of presenting the breadth and depth of Joe Bonamassa’s staggering output. Die-hard fans of the guitarist will undoubtedly want a copy to complete their collection. For those listeners who are late to the game, Gordon’s guide will certainly point them in the right direction, which is exactly what a buying guide should do.