“I’ve got Notches under my wheels” sings Joe Bonamassa on the first track here, and its apt. More than any other of his live albums, “Tales Of Time” feels like a journey, focusing on the “Time Clocks” album, his most expansive and ambitious. Maybe we should say “to date” here?
I’d seen him last spring, at The Royal Albert Hall. The album hadn’t been out too long and he’d only played one from it, but this is what Bonamassa does. He let’s songs breathe, gestiate and then revisits them, so it was that he marched into Red Rocks Theatre in Colorado (he’s recorded there before) to play most of “…..Clocks”.
Which is what we have here. A disclaimer: there’s a DVD too, but this review centres on the record only. I’m a much better listener than watcher, and you can lose yourself in this record
As the solo on the aforementioned “Notches” proves, this is JB at his best, the best live album that he’s ever done.
“The Heart That Never Waits” might have been the only song he’d played from that album when I saw him, but what a song! The keyboard playing from Reese Wynans, the backing vocals, it’s all here. It’s noticeable that with “Curtain Call” and its Led Zeppelin isms he’s played the three longest up front.
The gentle “Minds Eye”, seems to float on by. The maturity, the skill in his songwriting, the voice, have all improved immeasurably since the early days. The acoustic guitar from Josh Smith (“the best guitar player on this stage” he’d called him at Royal Albert Hall), adds more layers, to the point where there’s such gravitas about songs like “Questions And Answers” now, there’s tinges of jazz, and there’s Celtic folk infusing the “Loyal Kind”, but when the breakdown hits, it’s hard rock. All of which is underscored by the energy he always brings.
I’m as guilty as anyone I guess, of calling Bonamassa “blues”. He was. Is he these days? There are blues touches to “Known Unknowns” for sure, but others can debate what it is. I’ll just say that I consider him to be the best. I’m not a blues purist and don’t claim to be, but I’ve never been moved by a blues gig in the way I was in 2008, seeing Bonamassa for the first time at Wolverhampton Civic Hall.
He can still do that to me. Its just that now he does it with different styles, like “Time Clocks”, the wonderful, cinematic thing that is the last of the “….Clocks” tunes played here.
There’s no “Hanging On A Loser” (the only track he doesn’t play from the album on the CD) instead there’s a glorious take on the playful “Just Cos You Can, Don’t Mean You Should” and a muscular rendition of “Evil Mama”. Bombast? Yep. It’s all over this. He’s a rock star now. Maybe he always wanted to be? This is as big a sound as any arena rock band. These songs soar.
And yes, OK, the casual fan might think: “oh, another Joe Bonamassa live album, just what I wanted” but forget that this the best at his best. His very best.
There’s only Iron Maiden that release this many live albums, but there’s a reason. For Maiden and for Joe Bonamassa they are documents of tours we may never see again. He may never play these songs, in this order, in this way, ever in the future
Just be glad he told these tales, at this time.