As hundreds of fans fill the seats of the prestigious Vienna Opera House in eager anticipation for the giant of blues rock to appear, the stage and atmosphere are set for a performance that will ultimately elevate Joe Bonamassa to deity-like status armed with an arsenal of acoustic guitars. This month sees the release of that fabled recording, An Acoustic Evening At The Vienna Opera House. The album is truly unique as it strips away the heavy electric covering, allowing a more bare and detailed review of Bonamassa’s favoured songs.
There were several key notions behind this record when it was conceived. Initially it was thought that Bonamassa would play a solo set and give a brief intro to each song, making it incredibly personal and intimate to the audience. However, a motley band of five was eventually opted for and it was equipped with a variety of uncommon and peculiar instruments ranging from a celeste to a nyckelharpa, a good decision. The other idea was for this to be a positively memorable event; it was after all taking place in the Vienna Opera House, once host to the likes of Mozart and Beethoven. The record reflects this with a collection of 21 classic tracks including a two-minute prelude to build up that dramatic intensity.
It is tough, perhaps impossible, to find the big hit from this performance when it is an absolute success in its entirety. However, there are a several songs that stand out for having undergone an instrumental overhaul and come out with a fresh tone and feel. “Dust Bowl” is transformed with the explorative sounds of Mats Wester on the nyckelharpa and Gerry O’Conner on the mandolin. As well as the funky instrumentals, Bonamassa’s voice really comes into the frame, possessing smooth characteristics that can slide into a mighty bellow.
Other tracks to listen out for include “Slow Train,” which keeps the foot stomping, howl blistering vibe alive and “The Ballad Of John Henry” that dramatically alters the original recording by shedding the hefty electric guitar. The intricate and sometimes outlandish percussion of Lenny Castro provides the backbone to the track, as it also does with the rest of the album.
While Joe Bonamassa will always be held in the highest of regards for his astute blues guitar prowess and the big sound that goes with it, this inspired and rather worldly acoustic renovation has the integrity to be on par with some of his greatest live performances. Just listen and enjoy.
The Review: 9.5/10
Can’t Miss Tracks
– Dust Bowl
– Slow Train
– Athens To Athens
– The Ballad Of John Henry
– Jockey Full Of Bourbon
The Big Hit
– Dust Bowl
Review by George Ward