Joe Bonamassa - Muddy Wolf At Red Rocks
J&R Adventures 2015
2 DVDs: DVD 1 Concert, 211 minutes; DVD 2 Bonus material, 100 minutes
The prolific Joe Bonamassa returns with another live album but this time blues lovers can buy with complete confidence as Joe concentrates on two giants of the blues, Muddy Waters and Howling Wolf. A stellar band was assembled for this concert: Joe on guitar and vocals, Kirk Fletcher on second guitar, Mike Henderson on harp, Reese Wynans on keys, Anton Fig on drums and Michael Rhodes on bass plus a three man horn section of Lee Thornburg on trumpet, Rob Dziubla on sax and Nick Lane on trombone.
The music is available on vinyl, CD, DVD and Blu-Ray; this review is based on the DVD version. The opening section is dedicated to Muddy and opens with Joe’s spoken intro about the Delta and the influence that the early blues pioneers had on the music we love before Muddy himself speaks of his early experiences. We then get a snatch of Muddy playing “Tiger In Your Tank” at the Newport Jazz Festival before Joe’s band takes over with a real ‘oomph’ of power, everyone playing superbly. The band is ‘suited and booted’ in white suits and panama hats, Joe dressed in black and the stage, set into the red rocks of Colorado, makes for a spectacular setting.
“Can’t Be Satisfied” is a much-covered Muddy tune and the band gives us a really spirited uptempo version with Joe playing some fine slide and Mike’s harp to the fore. Some less visited Muddy songs like “My Home Is On The Delta” and “Real Love” appear but every tune is brilliantly handled. Listen to “You Shook Me” which ranges from the intro of Mike’s Chicago harp and Reese’s two-fisted piano to Joe’s solid vocal and exciting guitar solo, the horns supplying depth to make an outstanding version. “Stuff You Gotta Watch” is a DVD only track and pounds along with solos for Reese’s piano, Mike’s harp and Kirk’s Strat, the horn section supplying some enthusiastic backing vocals.
The one rather odd choice is “Double Trouble” – not the Otis Rush song but the one written and recorded by Lynyrd Skynyrd! Not sure why this was chosen for the Muddy set, but as a classic slow blues it fits in very well. A version of “All Aboard” which blends in “Mean Old Frisco” closes the Muddy section of the show: Mike’s harp sets the scene with some steam train sounds before the razor sharp rhythm section sets a frantic pace which energises everyone, Joe’s solo being a tour de force.
The second segment of the show follows a similar pattern with Howling Wolf’s voice speaking of what the blues is all about before he is heard on “How Many More Years”, the band joining in after the first verse with Reese playing a fine piano solo. As for the Muddy set Joe handpicks tunes from Wolf’s catalogue, starting with a rousing run through “Shake For Me” on which the two Michaels play some great bass and harp and Kirk and Joe both play solos on which their fingers are a blur. A quick-fire version of “Hidden Charms” finds Joe riffing hard over some fine piano from Reese and bouncing bass from Michael.
Joe introduces the band before the familiar strains of “Spoonful” open a run of Wolf’s best known tunes; “Killing Floor” races along with the horns propelling the tune and Reese again starring on piano before Joe takes another jaw-dropping solo; “Evil” opens with a second snatch of Wolf philosophy as he explains that when you’ve got the blues you’ll be thinking evil thoughts about someone before the band creates a suitably moody vibe for the song! The set closes with some great playing on a rollicking “All Night Boogie”, Reese playing some striking piano after Mike’s harp intro. The horns add some push and pull to the tune and Kirk gives us a fine solo, reminding us that Joe is not the only excellent guitarist on show.
As an encore the band gives us a mini JB greatest hits show. The Les Paul is back and Michael switches to a Fender bass as Joe gives us a short tease of Hendrix’s “Hey Baby (New Rising Sun)”, reprised from Joe’s last studio album “Different Shades Of Blue”, as are “Oh Beautiful!” and “Love Ain’t A Love Song” on which the horns add some funk. Delving into his back catalogue Joe then gives us extended versions of “Sloe Gin” and “The Ballad Of John Henry”, the former majestic in its balladry, the latter all power chords and heavy riffing.
For the technically minded Joe plays Les Pauls on all the Muddy tracks apart from the opening “Tiger In Your Tank” where he uses a Telecaster; in the Wolf show he plays a Stratocaster on the opening tracks before switching to a Gibson 335; in the JB segment he uses the Les Paul and the Strat.
A second DVD has four elements:
1. an hour long documentary with Joe and producer Kevin Shirley visiting Mississippi, including a visit to the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale
2. a twenty minute look behind the scenes at the Red Rocks show, including interviews with several of the musicians. Lee Thornburg’s insights into the horn arrangements are particularly interesting.
3. Seven minutes of archive footage of Muddy and Wolf, some of which is used in the actual DVD
4. a gallery of still photos from the rehearsals and show, shown over a fine bonus version of “Who’s Been Talking” which did not make the DVD.
Recorded in front of 9000 fans (the largest audience JB has ever played to), “Red Rocks” is a fine testament to Joe’s ability as a blues player and a great addition to his expanding discography.