Album review of Joe Bonamassa’s ‘An Acoustic Evening at The Vienna Opera House’

Joe Bonamassa
An Acoustic Evening at The Vienna Opera House
J&R Adventures (2 CDs)

By Mike Greenblatt

It’s small wonder that guitarist-singer-songwriter Joe Bonamassa didn’t want to tour as lead guitarist for Black Country Communion. He’s got bigger fish to fry.

This 2-CD set elevates Bonamassa into the stratosphere where — despite straddling territory usually reserved for John McLaughlin, Dave Matthews and John Mellencamp — he transcends his electric rep by putting together an acoustic show worthy of the ages.

Joe bonamassa Live Vienna Opera HouseOdd, esoteric and quite beautiful instrumentation. Well-chosen covers. Originals worthy of back-porch Appalachia. That high, lonesome Bill Monroe wail. He’s got all the acoustic bases covered. But it’s his penchant for the blues that’s most riveting. He morphs into a Robert Johnson-Leadbelly combo, covers Charley Patton like nobody ever, then covers Tom Waits (“Jockey Full Of Bourbon”) and John Martyn (“Jelly Roll”).

Whether it’s playing the great song he wrote with Danny Kortchmar (“Driving Towards The Daylight”) or the equally intriguing “Around The Bend” (written with Will Jennings), he’s really feeling it. Maybe the venue got to him, but Joe Bonamassa, the 30-something from upstate New York, has now officially grown up into a master before our eyes and ears.

Enter the all-out exotica of this brilliant lineup: Gerry O’Connor (banjo, fiddle), Mars Wester (nyckelharpa, mandola), Arlen Scheirbaum (harmonium, accordion, baby piano, glockenspiel) and Lenny Castro (percussion). They coalesce around Bonamassa’s voice and guitars — Martins, Gibsons, a Gallagher Doc Watson model, a Grammer Johnny Cash model, a Guild, and, of course, that ever-lovin’ National Dobro— to create a perfect storm and a perfect evening of profound music. Bravo!

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