June 15, 2022

Since she released her first album in 2009, Joanne Shaw-Taylor’s star has been on the rise. Like most modern-day blues artists, her work covers a variety of genres including soul, pop and rock in addition to actual blues – and also in common with a number of modern-day blues artists, her fortunes took a turn for the better when Joe Bonamassa got involved. The two had been friends for a long time, and when JST disclosed her intention to record an album of blues covers, he could hardly help but get on board, and Joe and his production partner, Josh Smith, handled production duties on the album that became, simply, The Blues Album in September 2019. Blues From The Heart is effectively a live rendition of that whole album, plus bonus material, making it in its turn, a very blues-led set. Blues From The Heart has been released in both CD+DVD and CD+Blu-Ray format – the DVD is an hour and 24 minutes long, but with a bit of judicious pruning of the chat in between numbers, the CD has been reduced to 78 minutes, which just about makes it possible to fit it on to a single CD. It features, amongst others, Bonamassa’s regular bass player Steve Mackey, ace session-man Nick Buda on drums and tenor sax work from Dave MacMurray.

The irrepressible Joanne Shaw Taylor (photo by Kit Wood)

And it’s great. I mean, JST is an excellent guitar player, and shows it at every opportunity. But the factor that most impresses is her stupendous voice. Low, smooth and smoky, it’s really her vocal delivery that grabs attention, perhaps even more on the audio-only version than when watching the DVD. Throw in some star guest appearances, and this is a winning combination of musicianship and full-on electric blues in the vein of Savoy Brown or Foghat, or any number of 12-bar merchants from the pub blues boom of the ‘70s.

She elects to bully off with a rocking version of Fleetwood Mac’s Stop Messin’ Round, which also opened the studio album – keyboard wizard Reese Wynans is replaced on this live set by the excellent Jimmy Wallace, who stumps up piano and Hammond solos in quick succession. This is followed by Little Milton’s If That Ain’t A Reason, an altogether more obscure choice which was included on the studio album at Bonamassa’s suggestion, but JST makes it all her own. In fact, most of the song choices are relatively obscure numbers; the up-tempo, funky 12-bar of Keep On Lovin’ Me follows, with its minor-key trad-jazzy vibe. It includes a tastefully restrained clear-toned solo during which her brace of backing singers make their voices heard, then she stamps on the overdrive pedal as it warms up into a fast, jazzy, driving rocker, and a highlight of the set.

Joe Bonamassa joins JST on stage, with bassist Steve Mackey in the background (photo by Kit Wood)

Second guitarist Rob McNelley gets a short solo on If You Gotta Make A Fool Of Somebody, a lighter, waltz-time number which comes across a little like Burt Bacharach’s Anyone Who Had A Heart. Then we have a real highlight of the set as Joanne introduces a hatted and Stratted Kenny Wayne Shepherd to guest on a six-minute rendition of Albert King’s Can’t You See What You’re Doing To Me. They play this in mid-tempo, but with a rapid 12-bar riff underneath; JST and KWS share the vocals and the solos. Kenny’s solo includes some reckless string bending, but it really comes together when they start doing answer-backs before the big crash ending. The next guest spot is when a leather-jacketed and teddy boy-quiffed Mike Farris, who fronted Double Trouble for a while after Stevie Ray Vaughan’s demise, is drafted in to sing backing vocals on the Little Richard ballad I Don’t Know What You’ve Got.

Dyin’ To Know is one of my favourite cuts from the album, although it’s also the first one not to be taken from Just The Blues; it starts with a rapid-fire rim-shot drum rhythm, then a complex fingerstyle guitar line in a minor key. After a verse of restrained power, the band comes powering in like a steam hammer, with McNelley playing slide – it is also the first single from the album and can be viewed at the foot of this page.

JST introduces Joe Bonamassa as a star guest for the final three songs; there’s an amusing moment on the DVD (but not the CD, sadly), where he quickly asks McNelley what key the first one is in. I don’t know, I suppose many guitarists would have been fazed to have F# dropped on them at short notice; of course Joe takes it in his stride as he reprises his studio guest spot on the jolly, retro-poppy, Don’t Go Away Mad. He then stays for a highly individual, almost medieval, take on George Gershwin’s Summertime, then the set-closing Delaney and Bonnie cover Only You And I Know; Bonamassa conducts the band on this one to some extent. It’s pure southern boogie in the Allman Brothers style; Joe and Joanne share the vocals and some great answer-back soloing, but it’s Joe who raises his hand to signal the band when to stop. After a brief sign-off from JST, the DVD ends with some playout credits over the only track from the studio not to be included in the concert, the short jam extract Scraps Vignette, to end a great gig, with perfect mix, production and note-perfect performance. If you’re into the whole electric blues thing, this take is pretty well faultless.

Joanne Shaw Taylor’s new live album Blues From The Heart Live is released by KTBA Records on June 10th via www.ktbarecords.com