Graffiti. Punctuated | Live music. In London.

Joe Bonamassa: Live At Carnegie Hall – An Acoustic Evening

Joe Bonamassa


(Photo credit: Christie Goodwin)

Joe Bonamassa | Live At Carnegie Hall – An Acoustic Evening

If you’ve released as many live albums as Joe Bonamassa – 14 at last count – you can’t get away with recreating your biggest songs note for note to a room of cheering fans. That’s just a second-rate greatest hits album and/or a blatant cash-in. Bonamassa clearly knows that. So each of his concert recordings is different – whether it be the setlist, the backing musicians, the guitar solos, the arrangements, the historic venue, or the instrumentation. In the case of ‘Live At Carnegie Hall – An Acoustic Evening’ it’s all of the above.

Following last year’s summer night big-band celebration of Freddie, Albert, and BB King at Los Angeles’ iconic open-air Greek Theatre, his latest live release is a far more intimate affair, befitting the New York City landmark that’s played host to everyone from Richard Strauss to Yo-Yo Ma. Recorded over two shows in January 2016 and once again produced by long-time musical partner Kevin Shirley, it showcases a completely acoustic reimagination of the musician’s  repertoire.

But this is no stripped-back one-man-on-a-stool-with-his-acoustic-guitar affair. Bonamassa, who’s left his electrics at home, is joined instead by cellist and erhuist Tina Guo, percussionist Hossam Ramzy, drummer Anton Fig, pianist Reese Wynans, multi-instrumentalist Eric Bazilian, backing singers Mahalia Barnes, Juanita Tippins, and Gary Pinto. Together, they reinterpret a handful of songs from his then not-yet-released ‘Blues Of Desperation’ album, multiple classics from the Bonamassa back catalogue, and a few choice covers.

So, after a suitably grand piano introduction, the group launch into three brand-new tracks: a swinging rendition of ‘This Train’ (bolstered by enthusiastic playing from Guo and Wynans), a quiet makeover of ‘Drive’ (with its beauty only magnified by Bazilian’s mandolin and the haunting sound of Guo’s erhu), and a more soulful take on ‘The Valley Runs Low’ (which really allows the backing vocalists to shine).

A quiet-loud-quiet ‘Dust Bowl’, which daringly has Bazilian playing its signature riff on a recorder, turns into a real rootsy stomp complete with some signature Bonamassa playing; a musically restrained ‘Driving Towards The Daylight’ especially allows the singer-guitarist to show the full passion within his voice; ‘Blue And Evil’, which features a ferocious cello solo and some impassioned singing, would challenge any rock band in the intensity stakes; and a driving ‘Get Back My Tomorrow’, with Bazilian on banjo and Pinto on top form, has the austere venue clapping along.

The renditions of other artists’ work are just as successful. Blind Alfred Reed’s 1920s Great Depression protest song ‘How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times And Live’ is treated with all the respect it deserves, the piano-led ‘Hummingbird’ soars as high as it did during Bonamassa’s recent full-blown electric show at Royal Albert Hall, and the exquisite encore performance of ‘The Rose’ is as moving as it is fitting.