Gildan's Guide to Good Music
The world of music is a vast ocean of crap - join me on a voyage to the tiny isolated islands of excellence.
As the tagline not so subtly suggests, it's really easy to find terrible music - you have but to turn on your radio, and lo, bad music abounds. The good stuff though, well that's rarely quite so easy to find, and while some popular music actually deserves the accolades it receives, most excellent music languishes in comparative obscurity. And that's where I come in!
If it's thought provoking, epic, eccentric, or exceptional (or possibly all of the above), I take it upon myself to write about it in the hope that at least one of the comparative handful of people who actually read my rambling and
rampantly egotistical definitely quite humble reviews will find it useful - or if not useful, at least momentarily entertaining; I take what I can get really.
Tonight marks a bit of a departure from my usual stomping grounds of obscurity, as the subject of this "review" is both well known and highly successful, with multiple chart topping albums to his name - not exactly the sort of musician you would expect me to talk about in this context, given my stated goal of shedding light on overlooked gems. So why am I talking about him in this context? Quite simply, because in spite of all the factors that would suggest otherwise, you still probably haven't heard of him, and that would be a damn shame!
The Ballad of John Henry
Musical Genre: Blues Rock
Running Time: 64 minutes
# of Tracks: 12
Particularly noteworthy songs: The Ballad of John Henry, Story of a Quarryman, Happier Times
I'm going to level with you from the start here: I absolutely adore Joe Bonamassa's music, and I hold his 8th studio album (this one) in particularly high regard, because it served as my introduction to "the man with the golden Les Paul". Bonamassa is one of the brightest luminaries of the modern-day Blues Rock revival, and I will fight to the death anyone who suggests otherwise.
If it weren't for Amazon making this album the "MP3 Deal of the Day" on Saturday, March 27th of 2010, in all likelihood I would never have heard of him at all.
That is in no way exaggeration on my part - I've only ever met one person who already knew his name before I brought him up, and even then they'd only ever heard his name, not his music; I was their personal introduction to that. I've never seen anyone else link to his music online, my Pandora station doesn't play him, and I've never heard his music played by anyone but myself since my initial discovery. If I hadn't bothered to check Amazon's daily music special that day, I wouldn't have seen The Ballad of John Henry on sale for $2, and if I hadn't seen it as a one-day sale for that ridiculous price, I would never have been curious enough to preview it and discover I freaking loved it; the album certainly would have crossed my path again of course, along with other sections of his discography, but it would have been part of Amazon's big list of "things on sale for $5" that I skim through each month looking for anything I happen to recognize, and I would have ignored it at that price for the same reason I ignore everything else on those lists I don't already know about now (namely, it's a list of 500 or so albums and I'm a busy fellow). Which would have been a tragedy, hence why I'm writing this piece now - the modern Blues scene isn't exactly at the forefront of the popular consciousness after all.
An American guitar wunderkind who first opened for blues legend B.B. King when he was 12 years old, Bonamassa's primary influences were actually English blues guitarists such as Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton, rather than the traditional American blues players. His early solo career was very much geared towards "fretheads", who were wowed by his serious guitar-playing chops; those same fans have been bitterly complaining about his last 5 studio albums, ever since Bonamassa started working with producer Kevin Shirley. The reason for that is obvious: Bonamassa has focused more on solid songcraft and polishing his singing, and toned down his guitar heroics - all in the name of reaching a broader audience.
What fretheads perceive as "selling out" though is simply common sense - "guitar virtuoso" albums occupy a rather extremely niche corner of the market; by making his guitar-playing skills a means to an end rather than the end itself, Bonamassa has been producing modern blues masterpieces that will appeal to just about anyone with functioning ears. That wasn't really hyperbole on my part either - unless you hate the electric guitar for some ridiculous reason like a certain member of my family does, it is damn hard to find fault with anything Bonamassa does.
In point of fact, I'm going to take that pronouncement one step further:
If you don't like The Ballad of John Henry (and by extension the rest of Joe Bonamassa's material), I genuinely think that something is seriously wrong with you.
Specifically, your ability to recognize good music when you hear it! Every song on this album, whether it's one of the 5 covers, such as his stellar interpretation of Tom Wait's "Jockey Full of Bourbon" or his sublime rendition of "Feelin' Good", or one of the 7 original compositions (I've embedded my 3 favorites below), is just chock full of riff-tastic bluesy goodness, coupled with Bonamassa's soulful vocal performance - if you like rock music even a little bit than this should be right up your alley.
If you were previously unaware of Joe Bonamassa like I rather suspect most people reading this will be, and this album is therefore not already gracing your music collection, it would be remiss of me if I failed to mention that in the course of writing this piece I learned that Amazon currently has the MP3 version on sale for $5. So there you go - not only is it awesome, it's on sale. You're welcome!
All right fellow denizens of the interwebs, it's 5AM - time for me to scarper off to bed so I can be well rested for my busy day tomorrow of doing absolutely nothing, because it's the weekend, huzzah. Gildan away!
Oh right, be sure to read my next Guide to Good Music article, which should take marginally less time to arrive than something that takes a very long time to arrive like all my reviews seem to these days, barring any hideous catastrophes or sudden whimsical forays into the oh so rewarding field of procrastination. I feel quicker already!
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