Eugene Weekly : Music : 2.25.10

Black Rock and Blues
Joe Bonamassa fires up the blues world
by Vanessa Salvia

Blues guitarist Joe Bonamassa is set to release his 10th solo album, Black Rock, on March 23. His first release was Bloodlines in 1994, when he played in a group with Robby Krieger’s son Waylon and Miles Davis’ son Erin, and his solo career began in 2000 with A New Day Yesterday. In 2007 and 2008, Guitar Player magazine named Bonamassa “Best Blues Guitarist,” and he and has won Blues Wax’s “Artist of the Year” an unprecedented three times. In 2009, he was named “Breakthrough Artist of the Year” by the U.K.’s Classic Rock Roll of Honour Awards, and was joined onstage by Eric Clapton, selling out London’s Royal Albert Hall. Only two months into 2010, Guitar World named Bonamassa “The Blues Rock Titan” and he has a song on Guitar Hero V’s New Blues Masters Track Pack. 

Bonamassa has been playing guitar professionally for 20 years, so perhaps that wealth of records and recognitions is unsurprising. But, when you consider that Bonamassa is just 32 years old, your jaw can’t help but drop. Bonamassa grew up in Utica, N.Y.  A child prodigy, he began playing guitar at age 4, and by 7 he was mimicking Stevie Ray Vaughan. By age 12, he was opening shows for B. B. King.

Black Rock speaks strongly of old Clapton, Led Zeppelin and other classic British blues acts. Still, Bonamassa is a man of many moods. His arrangement of Beck’s “Spanish Boots” is swampier than the original, with a laid-back, head-shaking groove. Black Rock was recorded at Black Rock Studios in Santorini, Greece, and Bonamassa’s cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Bird on a Wire” and the original track “Quarryman’s Lament” include bouzouki and clarino played by top Greek musicians. Rather than turning Black Rock into a world music album, the instrumentation enhances Bonamassa’s soulful, earthy qualities. The slower tempos of these songs are a nice bridge to the second half of the album, with tracks like “Three Times a Fool,” which evokes Stevie Ray Vaughn’s raucous, boot-stomping playing, and Willie Nelson’s “Night Life,” a classically blues-rock oriented duet by Bonamassa and B.B. King. 

Bonamassa recently formed Black Country, a supergroup with Jason Bonham (Led Zeppelin, Foreigner) on drums, Derek Sherinian (Dream Theater, Billy Idol, Alice Cooper) on keyboards and Glenn Hughes (Deep Purple, Trapeze) on bass. Named after a coal-producing area near Birmingham, England, Black Country is currently in the studio recording an album for release later this year. With a lineup like that, it’s sure to be heavy. And if Bonamassa’s skill is any indication, it’s a promise of more greatness to come.   


Joe Bonamassa, 8 pm Wednesday, March 3, McDonald Theatre. $32.50-$49.50