Joe Bonamassa is a busy guy these days. He’s put out two albums this year, and it’s not even July yet. The first was his own Dust Bowl; the second was the sophomore effort from his other gig, Black County Communion, imaginatively titled 2. How Zeppelinesque, but I’m getting ahead of myself just a bit.
The most interesting sounding song is Black Lung Heartache. Acoustic Greek instruments [Baglama, Bouzouki, Tzouras] abound for the first 1:28 until the electric guitar takes over the riff. The acoustic instruments reappear at the 2:58 mark and ride out the song. The Greek instruments make another appearance on the title track, but unlike Black Lung Heartache they’re used more for coloring rather than to carry the song. Dust Bowl has a sort-of “The Good, The Bad and the Ugly” twangy guitar on it along with some tasty slide soloing. That’s the kind of “light and shade” that made great recordings for Led Zeppelin. The most surprising song is John Hiatt’s Tennessee Plates. John Hiatt’s songs are uniformly very good, but that’s not the surprise. The surprise is not only the man himself joining the festivities on vocals, but also that JB would go for such a country-sounding song. Steve Nathan plays some fantastic piano. Vince Gill adds his six-string to top it off. Producer Kevin Shirley has Vince Gill’s Telecaster panned left, JB’s Les Paul panned right. If you want to hear the difference between a Fender and a Gibson, put on your headphones and listen to this song. Vince Gill also plays and sings on his lazy country shuffle Sweet Rowena. The last song is a cover of a song from Barbra Streisand [?!?] called Prisoner. Had I not read that somewhere else, I would have been blissfully ignorant, but I like it anyway. Black Country Communion cohort Glenn Hughes joins JB on Free’s Heartbreaker. It’s not as gritty as the Paul Rodgers original that I prefer, but it’s good enough that I foresee this becoming part of BCC’s live set.
When Black Country Communion [Glenn Hughes, Joe Bonamassa, Derek Sherinian, and Jason Bonham] put out their first album, I wrote the following review for Amazon.com:
I bought this CD while on a business trip. I listened to it while on a long drive back to my hotel. Having heard what each of these musicians is capable of, I was primed and ready to like this CD. However, after one listen, I'm ready to sell it back. I've heard many great vocal performances from Glenn Hughes - this is not one of them. Most of his vocals here are not singing, they are shouting. He's so much better than this [think of his work with Tony Iommi or Gary Moore]. The first thought that came to mind was that he was trying to be the male version of Christina Aguilera. According to drummer Jason Bonham, it took ten days to record and mix this album. It sounds like it. I've heard Kevin Shirley's work with guitarist Joe Bonamassa, Iron Maiden and Rush. He has good-sounding productions. His production acumen deserts him here. As for keyboardist Derek Sherinian, why did he join this band? You can barely hear him in the mix. His talents are woefully under-utilized here. Jason Bonham does good work here. His drumming is one of the few bright spots of Black Country Communion. Joe Bonamassa is an excellent blues-rock player, but he's horribly miscast as a hard-rock player here. Don't quit your day job Joe. I expected much from this CD - it didn't deliver.
Surprisingly, every criticism I had of the first album has been addressed in the second. I’d love to think I had something to do with that, but that would be delusional. Apparently I wasn’t the only one with these very criticisms. The songwriting is better. The production is much better – it sounds like what I would expect from Kevin Shirley. Glenn Hughes keeps the vocal gymnastics to a minimum. No scales, no over-emoting, no yelping or whooping as he is prone to do – just the best vocals I’ve heard him perform in awhile. He’s not trying so hard to live up to his billing as “The Voice of Rock.” On this CD, he IS “The Voice of Rock.” Joe Bonamassa proves he can play hard rock in addition to the blues and ballads he does on his own. He’s got the fat Les Paul tone, he’s also got the acoustic light-and-shade thing going, so it’s as if he’s channeling Jimmy Page, only his playing is more precise. Jason Bonham was outstanding on the first CD, and nothing has changed here. His dad would be proud. As for Derek Sherinian, welcome to Black Country Communion - we can finally hear you! Speaking of which…
The first song, The Outsider, sees JB hammering out the riff until midway through the song, when he and Derek S. go into full Blackmore/Lord “Highway Star” solo-trading mode. On the DVD that accompanied the release the first BCC album, producer Kevin Shirley said this kind of dynamic was what he had in mind in putting JB and Derek S. together, and here that concept comes to fruition. Save Me is a song Jason Bonham brought with him from his aborted collaboration with Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones. If there are any Zeppelin comparisons to be made, look no farther than this song – think of a cross-between of Kashmir and In The Light from Physical Graffiti. I like this one a lot. The Battle for Hadrian’s Wall is JB’s first vocal on “2”. The title alone is another reminder of Led Zeppelin [The Battle of Evermore, anyone?]. The song is a mixture of electric and acoustic sounds. It’s reminiscent of his work on Dust Bowl, but just a tad heavier. There’s just something strange about a native New Yorker singing a song about a Roman wall built in the north of England, but it’s a fine song anyway. For the heavy songs, look at Smokestack Woman and Man in the Middle. Glenn Hughes is in fine voice on both. Then there’s Little Secret, a slow blues tune Glenn sings about relapses into substance abuse. The blues is a different twist for Glenn, but it works here. Crossfire is similar to an older Glenn Hughes song, Soul Mover. If you liked Soul Mover, you’ll like this one. “2” closes with Cold. It is a sufficiently epic closer that has me hitting “replay” often.
2011 is a good year to be a fan of Joe Bonamassa. I recommend Dust Bowl and Black Country Communion 2 highly.