Joanne Shaw Taylor – Blues From the Heart: Live | Album Review

Joanne Shaw Taylor – Blues From the Heart: Live

Keeping the Blues Alive Records KTBA92702

16 songs – 78 minutes

One of the true superstars in the British blues scene, Joanne Shaw Taylor possesses a honeyed alto voice and guitar and songwriting skills to match, and her talents are on display for the world to see in this stellar CD/DVD combo package, a live set captured in front of an enthusiast audience in Franklin, Tenn., last year.

Joanne grew up in a musical family in the West Midlands of England and had already been fronting her band for two years and at both Ronnie Scott’s and the Marquee in London in the early 2000s when Dave Stewart of The Eurythmics discovered her at age 16. He quickly enlisted her to tour as a member of his supergroup, DUP, an experimental project that he formed with Gary “Mudbone” Cooper.

Now one of the most sought-after guitarists in the blues-rock community, Taylor signed with Germany’s Ruf Records late in the decade and made her debut with White Sugar in 2009, beginning a career that quickly resulted in back-to-back British Blues Awards for female vocalist of the year in 2010 and 2011, the same year she took home top honors as a songwriter, too. This is the ninth album in her arsenal and her second on Joe Bonamassa’s Keeping the Blues Alive imprint following The Blues Album, an all-cover CD released in 2021.

Bonamassa co-produced this one at Blackbird Studios in Nashville along with regular partner Josh Smith. Mixed by Kevin Shirley at The Cave in Sydney, Australia, both Joe and Kenny Wayne Shepherd make guest appearances on guitar along with Mike Farris on vocals and Dave McMurray on sax in a lineup that includes Rob McNelley on six-string and Jimmy Wallace on keys throughout. Nick Buda (drums) and Steve Mackey (bass) form the rhythm section, and they’re joined by Devonne Fowlkes and Kim Fleming on backing vocals.

Peter Green’s “Stop Messin’ Round” sprints out of the gate atop a medium-fast shuffle with Taylor laying down upper-register runs on guitar, and her vocals bookend an extended solo in which Wallace changes instruments mid-run before yielding to six-string. Joanne’s reading of Little Milton’s “If That Ain’t a Reason” gets the soulful reading it deserves before she launches into a cover of Otis Rush’s Windy City classic, “Keep on Lovin’ Me,” in which the horns play call-and-response to her vocals.

Things slow down for the ballad “If You Gotta Make a Fool of Somebody,” a Top 10 R&B hit for James Ray in 1962, before Shepherd joins Taylor onstage for a six-minute sendup of Albert King’s “Can’t You See What You’re Doing to Me.” Things initially drop to a whisper as Joanne reinvents Cash McCall’s “Let Me Down Easy,” which builds in intensity throughout, and then Kim Wilson’s “Two Time My Lovin’” before dipping into Don Covay’s catalog for takes on “I Don’t Know What You’ve Got” and “Three Time Loser,” which charted for Little Richard and Wilson Pickett.

Four Taylor originals – the percussive, Delta-flavored “Dyin’ to Know,” the unhurried rocker “Just Another Word,” “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long,” which opens as a ballad and finishes as an intense, bluesy rocker, and the steady-driving “I’m in Chains” – follow before three more covers — Ry Cooder’s “Don’t Go Away Mad,” featuring Bonamassa, an interesting take on  George Gershwin’s “Summertime” and Dave Mason’s “Only You Know and I Know” – bring the album to a close. The accompanying DVD also includes a bonus track, “I’m No Angel,” along with backstage interviews with Taylor and Bonamassa captured prior to the event.

Possibly the best live recording you’ll hear this year, Blues from the Heart is highly polished and well-executed throughout. Buy a ticket to this show. You won’t regret it!

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