Gildan's Guide to Good Music: Joe Bonamassa - The Ballad of John Henry

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[1], 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[2] - 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!



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Joe Bonamassa

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!

Other entries in Gildan's Guide to Good Music

Orphaned Land - The Never Ending Way Of ORwarriOR
Guilt Machine - On This Perfect Day
Ride The Sky - New Protection
Karmakanic - Who's The Boss In The Factory?
The Romanovs - ...And The Moon Was Hungry...
Penumbra - Seclusion
Within Temptation - The Heart Of Everything
Octavia Sperati - Grace Submerged
Virgin Black - Requiem - Mezzo Forte
Allen/Lande - The Battle
Devin Townsend Project - Addicted
Todesbonden - Sleep Now, Quiet Forest
Beyond Twilight - Section X
Katatonia - Night Is The New Day
After Forever - After Forever
The 69 Eyes - Back In Blood
Red Circuit - Homeland
Hurt - Vol. 1
Myrath - Desert Call
Ayreon - The Human Equation
Nocturnal Rites - The 8th Sin
Witchbreed - Heretic Rapture
Arjen A. Lucassen's Star One - Victims Of The Modern Age
Agua de Annique - Pure Air
Taal - Skymind

Want to be notified whenever I post a new Guide to Good Music article? Well then join the Guide to Good Music notification service group, and you'll receive a notification whenever I post a new Guide to Good Music article! Huzzah for truth in advertising.

[1] In which case it is certainly good music, but you don't really need me to tell you about it, now do you?
[2] Whether that's always the case is debatable, as these articles of mine generally don't receive a great deal of comments or views - but that's okay, since I write mainly to amuse myself. Feedback, while nice, is merely an optional extra.

Hmm. I never thought I would be thanking Amazon for bringing this to my attention in a round about way.

Liked it after the first 10 seconds, Loved it after 35. Thanks for the amazing find.

Gildan Bladeborn:
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.

Then this should interest you: The digital radio station Planet Rock are huge champions of Joe, not only playing his music regularly but also providing him with a DJ slot where he plays the music he likes.

You may thank me later.

EDIT -

I was going to bring up Feelin' Good but it seems I've been beaten to it.

This album's just good stuff, through and through.

Grouchy Imp:

EDIT -

Stranger of Sorts:
I was going to bring up Feelin' Good but it seems I've been beaten to it.

This album's just good stuff, through and through.

It wasn't so much a matter of forgetting as just not pointing out specifically - I agree, his take on that classic is damn good and in retrospect something I probably should have singled out (and through the magic of editing, now I have, huzzah!), but when it came to selecting highlights from an album that consists entirely of songs I think are wonderful, narrowing the field was somewhat tricky. I ended up selecting my 3 favorite original compositions from the album mostly because they'd be "new" to anyone who wasn't already familiar with Bonamassa.

Catchy Slogan:
Hmm. I never thought I would be thanking Amazon for bringing this to my attention in a round about way.

Liked it after the first 10 seconds, Loved it after 35. Thanks for the amazing find.

Happy to help!

Yeah this is defiantly some good music.

However, i don't really relate to the vocal and guitar styles of blues music. Still, just listened to an excellent instrumental in "Happier Times"

It's okay for a bar band. I don't hear anything amazing in the 3 songs linked. It's not bad, but it's nothing special as far as I'm concerned.

OP: Where do you get off saying:

-"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."-

Seriously, calm down dude.

Nickolai77:
Yeah this is defiantly some good music.

However, i don't really relate to the vocal and guitar styles of blues music. Still, just listened to an excellent instrumental in "Happier Times"

Not being able to relate to the vocal styles of blues music I can understand, vocals are often the biggest weakness of the genre - Tom Waits for instance can write a decent tune but he sounds like a gravelly frog, heh. But when it comes to the guitar styles, rock has been ransacking blues rhythms and riffs from the very beginning, and Blues Rock itself is a hybrid of the two genres - there's bound to be something in there you can relate to, as I see you have.

More Bonamassa, just because.



Sober Thal:
It's okay for a bar band. I don't hear anything amazing in the 3 songs linked. It's not bad, but it's nothing special as far as I'm concerned.

OP: Where do you get off saying:

-"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."-

Seriously, calm down dude.

Heretic! Unclean!

*ahem*

Right, now that I've gotten that out of the way, I have a question for you: Is this the only one of my "reviews"[1] that you've read? If so, I can perhaps understand why you might not have picked up my tendency to employ copious amounts of hyperbole in my writing - I mean, I thought it was fairly obvious from the way I indulge in ridiculous absolute proclamations on an inherently subjective medium that it was fairly clear my tongue is firmly in cheek throughout the process, but this is the internet: the place where nobody understands sarcasm.

For future reference: That statement was mostly in jest, just like all the other ridiculous things I say that, if interpreted literally, make me out to be a crazy person frothing at the mouth at anyone who does not perfectly mirror my own mindset. Being reasonable just isn't very funny you see.

[1] Not the most accurate word for describing what it actually is that I write, but it has the advantage of being much shorter than the alternative.

 

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