Joanna Connor – Rise
Joanna Connor is the queen of slide guitar. She and Sonny Landreth are my two slide guitar heroes. When I got this album, I got something unexpected– Connor doing something different, and it works.
Connor plays guitar and sings and even plays bass for a track. Joewaun Jay Red Scott is otherwise on bass, Cameron Lewis and Tyrone “Ty Drums” Mitchell share the drums, Delby Littlejohn is on keys, Ryan Shea plays sax, Keithen Banks adds vocals (tracks 1 and 2), Alphonso Buggz Dinnero raps and does spoken word and backing vocals on 4 tracks, Mike Zito sings and plays guitar on one track, Mark Carpentieri adds tambourine to track 9 and Ricky Liontones raps us home of the last track. Connor had at least a hand in writing the 10 original tracks and there are two well done covers here.
“Flip” gets things going with a funky groove and a a fully funked up sound. Connor sings with a cool cadence and the groove is accompanied by organ and sax. Banks backs Connor apply on vocals and Dinero raps with her to add to the mix; Connor’s guitar offers a raw and slick solo. Up next is “Bad Hand” which shifts gears totally into the realm of classical and rock acoustic guitar. The intro is surprisingly Segovia- or Bream-like but then things shift more to the rock side of things as Connor and Zito sing and the acoustic guitar moves into that realm. Littlejohn’s piano here is stellar and Zito offers a dreamy and cool solo on electric guitar to spice things up. ”Joanna in A” is a joyful and swinging instrumental romp with Connor’s guitar leading the charge. Blending jazz and blues, the songs is a wild and fun ride. The sax play a nice part as do the keyboards. “Earthshaker” is next and Connor starts us off with some strident and forceful guitar. Connor sings with passion and gives us some more sweet guitar on her huge solos. Her man may be an earthshaker, but so is her guitar. The title track is next and things slow way down as things start off. A moderate funky groove begins as this delightful instrumental moves along. Guitar and organ intertwine in a jazzy manner. “Since I Fell For You” follows, a ballad that Connor croons for us delightfully. The backing is just her understated electric guitar and it works well.
Connor hearkens to her roots with “My Irish Father,” another acoustic piece with Connor offering us solo guitar with a bit of a brogue. She strums and plays with passion. Connor shifts gears again and we get slide guitar to savor in “Mutha”. Dinero offers up spoken words in tribute to Connor being “a bad mutha on the guitar” and then she aptly demonstrates that for us with some stratospheric slide work. She also plays the bass on this track. The funk returns with Sly Stone’s “If You Want Me To Stay” turned into a Connor instrumental. The guitar replacing the vocals gives us a cool take on this cut and Connor is always ready to impress us. The organ is slick too, and we get some classically fine bass lead to savor here, too. Next we have “Cherish and Worship You” and it appears the gloves are off and all restraints released; Connor unleashes her rocking side on guitar. She sings with emotion and the organ adds to that, but the huge guitar is what makes one sit up and take notice. “Blue Tonight” is a hell bent and driving cut that runs 100 mph as Connor sings and plays fiercely. It’s another wild ride! Lots of good piano work here, too, and the organ backs her well again, too. The final track is a somber and haunting one entitled “Dear America.” Liontones wraps as Connor plays. The lyrics tell us our divisive woes as a country in this rap-blues-rock cut that highlights our ills and calls for equality and justice. Connor wails and screams vocally and on guitar and then solos on her axe in a big way. It’s quite the impressive finish.
So if you are looking for a straight up blues album filled with Connor on her fantastic slide guitar, well, this ain’t it. It’ got very little blues to speak of and not a lot of slide, either. What we have here is good music that blends and sometimes mashes genres together, highlighting a diverse set of styles and approaches to music. Connor showcases her guitar all over the place and we love and expect that, but we also so her branch out to more than blues with a rock side to include rap, jazz and even some classical influences. This is a fine album and offers something for fans of many styles of music to enjoy. Blues purists might complain, but it’s a really cool set of tunes delivered as few can do! I enjoyed this one and applaud Connor for branching out.