Provogue 2-CD set/2-DVD/Bluray [Monday 25.03.13]
‘An Acoustic Evening at the Vienna Opera House’ finds Joe Bonamassa playing to his strengths in an unplugged mode. Together with a carefully chosen multi instrumental quintet, his playing is eloquent, tasteful and at times inspiring.
Joe also produces some of the best vocal performances of his career on an album conceived and overseen by producer Kevin Shirley. The latter chose the kind of guests who could re-invigorate some of the best moments of Joe’s back catalogue in acoustic mode.
Potentially there could have been several of reasons for being sceptical about this release. Firstly, there’s the inevitable stop-gap nature of a live album – and he’s already released five – then there’s the unplugged retread of his well thumbed back catalogue and the fact that inevitably boredom can set in over 2 CD’s of acoustic music. But it’s to the artist and producer’s immense credit that they transform what might have been a project too far into something that gives Joe’s career an extra dimension.
‘Dustbowl’ for example, features Mats Wester on the myckelharpa and Gerry O’Connor on mandolin. They both give the song a wholly different feel, albeit with an inescapable Zeppelin influence.
The album works so well because of the meticulous pre-prep and the resulting multi- instrumental approach. The essential combination of Joe’s stellar chops and some remarkably good vocals also means he successfully reconnects with the world music undercurrent of ‘Black Rock’.
The double album only sags twice, most notably on the train time of ‘Slow Train’ which resorts to the kind of fiddle/acoustic Celtic hoedown that you could find in a north London pub and CD2’s ‘Stones In My Pass Way’ which is a laboured version of an obvious cover. But that represents only a small blip on a double album that for the most part reignites Joe’s back catalogue with a Celtic and world music feel.
Both ‘Dislocated Boy’ and ‘Driving Towards Daylight’ are simply great songs whatever the format, with the former benefiting from Lenny Castro’s percussion and the latter from Gerry O’Connor’s sonorous fiddle. The audience reaction to ‘John Henry’ suggests it remains Joe’s signature song and it’s given some extra heft by Castro’s percussive presence. ‘Jelly Roll’ is also coloured by original instrumentation and there’s another lovely mandolin line on ‘Black Lung Heartache’.
‘An Acoustic Evening at the Vienna Opera House’ achieves the twin goals of re-configuring mostly familiar material with a world music feel, in the confines of a historic music venue that used to grace the likes of Mozart. The result is an original and successful take on Joe’s own brand of classics that cements his desire to constantly move forward. **** (4/5)
Review by Pete Feenstra
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