Black Rock

Joe Bonamassa

J&R Adventures, 2010

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


Following up the amazing Ballad Of John Henry is no small feat, but Joe Bonamassa tried the very next year with Black Rock, which reverts to the formula of five originals and eight covers. But sandwiched between John Henry and 2011’s Dust Bowl, this one feels like a stopgap that misses the mark, albeit in stylish, satisfying fashion.

Four studio albums in four years, plus a studio collaboration with Beth Hart that pushes the mark to five, is quite an intense workload in the CD era, so Bonamassa is to be commended for that. However, one wonders what would have happened if the best of this disc and the best of Dust Bowl had been combined; it would have been killer, and the covers could have been saved for a stopgap release down the road. But no matter; my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Black Rock is what we’ve been given.

If you don’t care for Bonamassa, this won’t change your mind; if you’re a fan, as most people who hear him become, you’ll enjoy this but to a lesser degree than other albums because it’s just more of the same. The album really comes to life when Bonamassa continues to write original songs and expand his horizons, as he did with “The Ballad Of John Henry” one year prior, as he does here with the intense acoustic folk/flute blues “Quarryman’s Lament” (and its cousin, “Athens To Athens”) and the hypnotic psych-blues-rock “Blue And Evil,” far and away the best song here.

But there are only five of these moments, with the other songs coming in the form of covers, including a faithful (read: mundane) acoustic reading of Leonard Cohen’s “Bird On A Wire,” a perfunctory take on Jeff Beck’s “Spanish Boots,” and John Hiatt’s “I Know A Place,” which doesn’t stick in the memory for too long on here. Bonamassa shows stylistic range with his choices, to be fair, and his two-minute take on Otis Redding’s “Three Times A Fool” is a surging blast of heat, as is the B.B. King duet “Night Life” (a Willie Nelson song). King has long been a mentor and influence on Bonamassa, so hearing the two guitarists together with horn blasts all around is great fun for everyone, which is evident in the singing as well as the many solos.

Unfortunately, “Wandering Earth,” “Look Over Yonders Wall,” the old-timey shufflin’-n’-grinnin’ “Baby You Gotta Change Your Mind,” and “When The Fire Hits The Sea” are just more of the same, sounding fine, expertly played by a guy who knows his stuff and reveres the masters, but not up to par with the rest. Coupled with the aforementioned dutiful covers, more than half the album rarely rises to must-listen status, and Bonamassa’s best work demands that. Ultimately, Black Rock ends up being a step sideways for most of its run time, which may please fans and those who dig modern blues-rock in general, but relegates it to the second tier of Joe Bonamassa albums.

Rating: B-

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