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Joe Bonamassa

The Ballad of John Henry

Review by Mark Johnson

This has a great sampling of guitar blues/rock classics mixed with Joe Bonamassa’s original songs. “Jockey Full of Bourbon” and “Happier Times” are worth the price of admission alone. We get solid blues and rock mixed well and delivered with care and precision. Bonamassa is quickly making a name for himself in blues and rock circles as a great guitarist. As a member of the new super group Black Country Communion, his name will only grow in popularity and renown. Discover this and some of his earlier works before everyone knows who Joe Bonamassa is. That way you can say you knew about him first.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2010  Volume 5 at

Track by Track Review
The Ballad of John Henry

Let’s kick things off with some heavy blues and fuzz guitar mixed with some distortion. You can feel the hammer’s pounding with the guitar and drums working their magic, setting a perfectly synchronized pace for this working man’s ballad.  Then the violins and orchestration come in to provide that epic sound, just before Bonamassa’s blues chords cut through the air to drive home the pain of working the railway. The slow plodding guitar is matched with his lightning riffs, cutting through the haze of the mist and fog. The vocal delivery adds to the feeling of the song.

A classic blues song, this opens with one of those launching slow chords we all know and love. Then Bonamassa’s vocals take over, “All that I had is all that you’ve given me / Did you never know that I come to depend on you?” It’s another someone’s done someone wrong song. The feeling behind Bonamassa’s vocal delivery shows he’s been through one of these scenarios before. The blues chords are fantastic and sharp. The horn section helps add to the effect. The excellent guitar solo in the middle will have you wanting to replay this one again and again.
Last Kiss
Another of Bonamassa’s original songs, this is a power steel mill rocker. “I don’t mind stealing the last kiss before I die.” The electric guitar just sizzles with each chord along with the organ and tambourine supporting. The guitar chords and solos are excellent, and this is an excellent rocker.
Jockey Full of Bourbon
This Tom Waits cover is the best song on the album. Although Waits does it with more grit, Bonamassa improves on the vocal quality. He opens with the sound of a piano which really sets a perfect New Orleans tone. Bonamassa slows down his version and drains every note and effect out of this impressive number. He really makes you feel it from every angle you could imagine. The chorus section sounds so much better than the original. Bonamassa’s guitar chords add to the character of the composition. The acoustic intermingling with the electric is excellent. The drums support well, and Bonamassa just lets it rip with the guitar during the mid section really lighting the fire. That classic 1800’s piano sound really adds to the ambiance.
Story of a Quarryman
The power guitar chords that open this one really rock, and that drum support really brings this front and center. This showcases power chords and sharp playing that truly drive home the message.
Lonesome Road Blues
Powerful drums and blues guitar open this extravaganza. It’s another Bonamassa original, setting up a new catalog of blues material. We get great blues guitar working well with the piano and drums. It’s a solid traditional blues song.
Happier Times
This album was written during happier times, as the booklet describes. It has fantastic guitar and vocals. This is Bonamassa’s best original track on this album. It’s an excellent balladic love song. The acoustic guitar is just fantastic as it blends perfectly with the percussion and drums. Bonamassa’s vocals are stretched in a different direction after all of the blues numbers that preceded this one. The guitar effects and improvisations make this stand out above all others on the album. Bonnamassa is innovating and adding his sound to the Pantheon of blues artists who have come before.
Feelin’ Good
The good mood continues. On this song Bonamassa does a fantastic job describing a great day. “Birds flying high / You know how I feel / Sun in the sky / You know how I feel / It’s a new dawn / it’s a new day / It’s a new life for me / And I’m feeling good.” The guitar work here is excellent supported by soft drums, organ and piano.
Funkier than a Mosquito’s Tweeter
It sounds like Bonamassa had a lot of fun with this song. The title is funny enough. The opening has a Dire Straits “Money for Nothing” feel to it. The organ and the keys really add to the effect. Bonamassa’s vocals cannot disguise the fun he’s having. It’s a nice funky break from the blues.
The Great Flood
This one brings back memories of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Texas Flood,” but it is a Joe Bonamassa original. Every note of this epic seven-plus-minute song is important. You feel the depth of sadness and despair with each note Bonamassa plays and with each lyric he sings. The bell sounds tolling at the front and back of this are incredible, adding to the effect of the music. The organ provides that smooth even flow to support the guitar work. The sax which comes in later works perfectly as an exclamation point.
From the Valley
This is a slow “sunrise in the valley” guitar instrumental type of song. It’s very nice.
As the Crow Flies
Bonamassa uses a guitar picking, fun country rock kind of song to close the album. It sounds like he had a lot of fun on this one, too. A cool electric guitar buzz added to the mix provides a cool bluesy tone. As the song builds you can clearly hear that ZZ Top influence.
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