Joe Bonamassa: The Ballad of John Henry
The Ballad of John Henry
Joe Bonamassa (guitar, vocals)
The Ballad of John Henry (J&R Adventures 91646)
Bogie Bowles (drums), Carmine Rojas (bass), Rick Melick (keyboards, background vocals), Blondie Chaplin (rhythm guitar), Lee Thornburg (brass), David Woodford (reeds).
Composed by Joe Bonamassa.
Recorded: Malibu, no date given (CD released in 2009)
Rating: 90/100 (learn more)
In a famous folk song, John Henry is the steel-driving man who battles against the steam hammer, and winsóbut only at the cost of his life. A similar battle takes place on this track, and for a while I thought the machines would enjoy a quick victory this time around. The opening "notes" sound like a high voltage electric fence being torn to bits by Godzilla. But the intensely, electrified vamp is replaced by a roots-oriented acoustic sound less than a minute into the action. The contrast sets up a powerful hook, and the contrast between plugged-in and unplugged continues throughout the song. Bonamassa is a gripping performer, mixing lowdown blues and high-octane rock in a musical hybrid vehicle that goes from zero to sixty in seconds. This may be the sound of 21st century blues, with British rockers venerated as influential past masters just like the Delta pioneers. Hey, its all part of our aural heritage now. If you like Otis Taylor or the North Mississippi Allstars, this is an artist you will want to get to know.
Reviewer: Ted Gioia