REVIEW: JOE BONAMASSA – LIVE AT THE HOLLYWOOD BOWL WITH ORCHESTRA (2024)

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It’s a question, really: who has more live albums than Joe Bonamassa?

The man is a machine. His themed shows are always sensational. (I’ve been fortunate to attend one of his “British Invasion” gigs, and I’ve reviewed countless others.)

This one, though, is extra special.

You sense he’s not a man to do things by halves, and he puts himself into everything he does with passion.

So it was that he marched into one of the most iconic venues in the world, The Hollywood Bowl, in August 2023 with a 40-piece orchestra to have a go at some of his back catalogue.

What that means in practice is that “When One Door Opens” becomes a kind of overture, but it’s “Curtain Call” that really shows this record in all its glorious light.

The arrangements are different, and the vibe is different. This is not (as some of these things can be) the song with some added strings. This is a proper endeavour. He’d roped in David Campbell, Trevor Rabin, and Jeff Bova to work on the project (and you feel that’s what it was), and it really does show a side to this you’d never heard before.

Some of my favourite JB tracks are here. “Self-inflicted Wounds” is one, but for this one, you just have to immerse yourself in it, and it’s striking that on this, and so many others, Bonamassa plays second fiddle (pun unintentional, but left in) as Though he’d intentionally toned it down—although, of course, when he does play, his guitar work is stunning (although he’s upstaged by the backing vocals here).

The organ of Reese Wynans cannot be kept out of the limelight, and it melds with the orchestra brilliantly on “No Good Place For The Lonely,” and the extra percussion works in its chorus. And this is the first time that he cuts loose on the guitar. You’ll be glad he does.

One of the older tracks given a makeover here, “Ball Peen Hammer,” has more flute than Jethro Tull, but it works. Also one of the shorter ones, it is the precursor to the astonishing “Last Matador of Bayonne,” and if there’s one song that benefits more than any other from this approach, then this becoming a centrepiece is probably “The One,” although another, “….Bowl” song, “Prisoner,” isn’t far behind.

Although Bonamassa frequently makes songs more epic in a live setting, here they feel especially cinematic. “‘If Heartaches Were Nickels'” from way back in 2000, right at the start of his career, is huge here—far bigger in scope than you’d have thought.

No one here is afraid to take on some of the most well-known tracks in the canon, either. “‘The Ballad of John Henry'” reaches a crescendo of soaring proportions (and let’s face it, it was never demure in the first place). After this one, things come right up to date with another version of “’24 Hour Blues,'” and it’s interesting to hear the mixture of soul and classical that it becomes.

Just in case you were wondering if he’d do “Sloe Gin,” he does, and it’s one of those songs. It could be done in any format and sound perfect. Yes, it’s a cover, but somehow Bonamassa always manages to make it his own.

Despite being the best at what he does, he seems humble enough to appreciate the position he’s in: “Very few gigs represent my journey in music more than the Hollywood Bowl,” he says of this show.  “I moved to Los Angeles in 2003 in search of opportunity and cheaper rent than New York City.  My first gig at The Mint was attended by five of my friends, and that’s all.”

Fast forward 21 years, and at the age of 47, Joseph Leonard Bonamassa is one of the few artists with the freedom to do what he likes and the skill to pull it off.

Only a few days ago, he was part of the Black Country Communion album which is one of the finest hard rock records of the year, no there’s this.

This is more than his Hollywood, this is a man with the world at his feet.

Rating 9.5/10

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