JOE BONAMASSA – BLACK ROCK (REVIEW)

Out now on Provogue Records

Yet another bold, confident, masterful release from “the future of blues rock”. Joe and Kevin Shirley retreated to Santorini Greece to seek new inspiration and to break in a brand new studio set in the cliffside. The result is the very mature “Black Rock” which comprises 5 Joe penned originals and 8 cover tunes. Four tunes include traditional Greek instrumentation, best of those is “Quarryman’s Lament” which is one of Joes best riff compositions yet, you will be humming this one; a lot.

Joe’s vocal performance is also his best yet, and as always, plenty of snarly classic tone guitar riffage is evident, primarily on killer tracks like “Blue & Evil”, Bobby Parker’s “Steal Your Heart Away” and the great cover of Jeff Beck’s “Spanish Boots” . The highlight for Joe on this album is the participation of B.B. King on the Willie Nelson standard “Night Life”, and a great guest spot it is too, B.B. still rocking hard in his eighties and perhaps left just a little out of breath by tunes end. The most surprising inclusion however, is Joe’s take on Leonard Cohen’s poignant “Bird on a Wire”, replete with traditional Greek instrument embellishment.

Overall, this is another positive step in Joe’s steep developmental process. Only qualm is that perhaps the production is perhaps just a tad too clean, not enough dirt left under the fingernails for a big rock small blues production. The guaranteed success of this offering will once again have the blues purists cringing, but Joe’s popularity continues to grow in leaps and bounds and rightly so. Well done Joseph….. I eagerly await the as yet officially unnamed “suppa groupa” project from Joe, Glenn Hughes, Jason Bonham and Derek Sherinian later this year, should rock hard.

Rating – 85%
Review by Mike Blackburn

BLACK COUNTRY COMMUNION – BLACK COUNTRY (REVIEW)

Released 20th September 2010 – Mascot Records
 
On the strength of some simpatico vibes generated by a Glenn Hughes guest vocal appearance at a Joe Bonamassa concert, and probably fuelled somewhat by the commercial success of the Hagar/Satch Chickenfoot project, the genesis spark for this “super group” was struck. There are precious few of these amalgamations that have generated much critical success (including said ‘Foot) and so it was with great trepidation that I cracked open this offering. The main concern was the quality of the 60 plus vocal chords of one Glenn Hughes. A few live YouTube videos exacerbated that concern……

Well then, there was no need for concern was there? Glenn sounds magnificent, Joe slashes and burns throughout; Derek adds timely keyboard flourishes and Jason whomps down a solid backbeat his dad would be proud of. This is one heavy slab of majestic top drawer rockness . The sucker takes three or four songs to get off the ground and then soars through the following onslaught, masterfully engineered by Joe’s maestro of choice these days, Kevin Shirley. “Sista Jane” is as close as you will ever hear Glenn and Joe to AC/DC territory. The compositions are surprisingly strong, given the short time frame utilized to produce this sucker.

I have but one slight qualm. Joe, when noodling for his own pleasure, or shredding, has a tendency to rely on this really cool Eric Johnson phrasing riff. We get to hear that riff, however flawlessly performed, a tad too often here. Regardless, Joe’s performance here on six string, and vocally I might add (the fact that Joe can hold his own with an in form Hughes speaks volumes as to his emergence as THE premier rock-blueser on the planet) is superb. This, should they choose to make it so, IS a super group and this CD is a must have. The Trapeze standard “Medusa” is a thing of beauty to behold.

Thanks guys for sticking to your guns as this slab almost did NOT see the light of day…..

Rating – 90%
Review by Mike Blackburn

IRON MAIDEN – THE FINAL FRONTIER (REVIEW)

A new Iron Maiden album. In the eighties that meant weeks of anticipation, and a near religious experience when I finally put the album on the turntable. Iron Maiden was synonymous to heavy metal as far as I was concerned.

Those days are long gone unfortunately. Maiden toppled from their peak through a succession of ever more mediocre or downright appalling albums.

This new album is touted as a step in a more progressive direction. The same was said about the atrocious A Matter Of Life And Death, so it was with trepidation I approached this newest epic.
I’m glad to report that this time they’ve taken the progressive approach and made it stick.
Instead of the endless intros (even if there’s still a more than healthy helping of them) and ad nauseam repetition that have marred most Maiden albums since Brave New World, the band offers up more intricate song structures and some more complex ideas.

Title track “The Final Frontier” is a typical 21st century Maiden track. Including a chorus that is little more than repeating the title…“El Dorado” reminds me of the Powerslave era for some reason.
“Mother Of Mercy” has Bruce straining in the chorus, but is a very well crafted song that builds to a nice climax. “Coming Home” sees the band branching out even more. An epic track with Bruce in fine form. Call me crazy, but “The Alchemist” has a whiff of “Spotlight Kid” about it. “Isle Of Avalon” is as epic as the title would have you believe. “Starblind” is a good example of the more proggy tendencies. A complex rhythm and no discernible chorus add up to a refreshing tune that brings something new to the Maiden catalog. By the time we reach “The Talisman” I’ve had my fill of intros. A more immediate song would have helped break up the monotony, which does begin to rear its head around this point. Once the song gets going things take a turn for the better. “The Man Who Would Be King” is a killer track where all the elements come together to near perfection. A track too many? “Where The Wild Wind Blows” offers yet another lengthy intro and may well be the least convincing track of the album. It’s not bad in itself, but it’s one in a series of three fairly similar tracks.

Yes, another case of me bitching about an album being too long. Without “The Talisman” and “When The Wild Wind Blows” or even one of them this would have been a more balanced album.
There are moments where Bruce doesn’t really sound like Bruce at all. A bit disconcerting. A major plus for this album is the fact that the guitarists finally seem to have found the right balance. Who knows, maybe the three guitar lineup will make some sense after all. There’s lots of small fills left and right that add welcome detail and tension to most of the tunes. Even Gers seemed inspired and has put in his best playing on a Maiden album yet. Which isn’t saying much, but it’s actually pretty good. He’s still no Adrian Smith or Dave Murray though. Nicko McBrain is on a roll as well, lots of fills, rolls and little embellishments. Steve Harris is Steve Harris. Production was once again in the hands of Kevin Shirley. I’ll remain polite and say I preferred Martin Birch…

This is their first album in twenty years I’ve truly enjoyed. Even with most songs clocking in at over 7 minutes there are few dead spots and really no cause for boredom, even if it gets a bit samey towards the end. It has restored my belief in Maiden and the human race.
 
Hot Spots : The Alchemist, Starblind, The Man Who Would Be King
Rating : 89% 
Review by Stranger In A Belgian Land Sancho.