April 20, 2023

It has long been observed that we are never far from a new release from blues giant Joe Bonamassa – his output is prodigious, and gets more and more ambitious with every project. It has also been observed that everything he releases is meticulously produced – performed, packaged and presented close to perfectly in every detail. As with many musicians inhabiting the blues-rock arena, his output is pretty evenly split between studio and live work, with concerts often themed so as to differentiate them from each other, such as his British Blues Explosion Live set, which showcased the work of Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page, and his acoustic Live At Carnegie Hall. Of late though, he has been returning to his early practice of releasing live footage closely related to his studio albums, such as Now Serving: Royal Tea Live From The Ryman in 2021, the companion to his studio album Royal Tea from the previous year.

Photo by Jenise Jensen

2021 also saw the release of his blockbuster studio album Time Clocks, and now we have its live counterpart Tales Of Time, recorded in August 2022 in Colorado, USA. This is a sprawling release, available as a CD/DVD or CD/Blu-Ray set, a triple 180g vinyl or a digital download. It seems strange that these days, the CD release is the ‘lite’ version, a quick and easy way to experience a master at work, even though it crams 75 minutes on to one disk. The full video experience is an hour and 50 minutes, with extra bonus material of a further 20 minutes.

Joe and his band return to the iconic Red Rocks venue for this production, which last appeared on his 2015 live release featuring the songs of Howling Wolf and Muddy Waters, Muddy Wolf At Red Rocks. It is a spectacular open-air natural amphitheatre near Denver, nestled in a spacious crevice in between imposing red sandstone formations. The theatre could hardly be more stunning, and the opening shots of the video footage could probably have lingered for longer over the gorgeous setting, but the production gets straight to the concert with minimal wasted time. The atmospheric djembe-fuelled tribal ambience on the intro to Time Clocks is enhanced and lengthened on the live version by a voice-over by Deepak Chopra, before the band launches into Notches, a song which references a gigging performer’s wide travels.

Read Velvet Thunder’s review of Joe Bonamassa’s Time Clocks

Joe lets rip on a Telecaster during the Black Velvet-style chugger The Heart That Never Waits, and the enthusiastic crowd is just loud enough in the mix to add a frisson of atmosphere, without ever overwhelming the music. Joe’s backup guitarist and production partner Josh Smith keeps up the backing riff throughout the Kashmir-styled next track Curtain Call, and Joe adds another layer with a screaming theremin! Josh plays a short solo at the end, but it’s so far down in the mix as to make me wonder whether he was on the right sound setting, but the rest of the concert is so crystal clear and sharply produced, it hardly seems it could be a mistake. Joe gives him a name-check at the end of the number in any case.

To cut a long story short, Joe and his band give the whole Time Clocks album a thorough work-out, apart from the funky blues number Hanging On A Loser, which was track 8 on the album but doesn’t appear on any format of the live set, being replaced with Just ‘Cos You Can, Don’t Mean You Should, from 2018’s Redemption. The original studio set ran to 56 minutes, so the CD version of this live run-out is much longer at 75 minutes. The DVD is longer still of course, adding five extra songs, including the only cover version of the set, Gary Moore’s Midnight Blues, and ending on the crowd favourite Mountain Time. The bonus material doesn’t contain interviews, out-takes and general chat as I had expected, although it does include some lengthy band introductions; instead it presents two extra numbers taken from the same concert: Dust Bowl and the inevitable Ballad Of John Henry, which has virtually become Joe’s signature song. The triple LP format contains every song from the entire video selection, bonus material included, sorted into a slightly different order.

Photo by Jenise Jensen

As ever, ex-Stevie Ray Vaughan keyboard wizard Reese Wynans does excellent service, with a range of sounds from Hammond organ to boogie piano – check out his solo on Notches, where he plays Hammond and electric piano at the same time, pulling a similar trick on Evil Mama, a highlight number where the whole band really let themselves off the leash. New band members Calvin Turner and the excellent Lemar Carter replace bassist Steve Mackey and drummer Anton Fig respectively; Joe’s longtime bass player Michael Rhodes sadly passed away in March this year.

Joe often uses a small horn section on his larger projects, but not this time, although he does return to his full three-girl set of Aussie backing singers, frequent collaborator Mahalia Barnes, the ever-reliable Jade MacRae, with the third spot this time taken by Dannielle De Andrea, who also appeared on Royal Tea Live From The Ryman. The ladies also contribute percussion in the form of various hand-held shakers, and their cool, co-ordinated and carefully rehearsed movements in front of the massive stage back-projection are an indispensable part of the whole visual experience. The weather threatened to derail the whole project, with heavy rain on the first of the two nights, a bit of a downer for an open-air concert; I’m assuming therefore that all the video footage is from the second night, although that is not specified anywhere in the explanatory notes. In any case, a big hand to everyone involved, because the band is absolutely on fire, and this is a tremendously enjoyable production with great entertainment value, and well worth the effort.

Tales Of Time by Joe Bonamassa is now available on CD/DVD, CD/Blu-Ray, 3LP 180 Gram Vinyl and Digital – Featuring Songs from Joe’s 25th #1 Album Time Clocks