Best of Me is Joanna Connor’s 15th album and her label debut on Mike Zito’s “Gulf Coast Records” with its release on June 9, 2023. Joanna is a critically acclaimed blues rock singer/songwriter/guitarist that moved from Massachusetts to Chicago to pursue a musical career at the age of 22 in 1984. After playing in local clubs and connecting with Dion Payton she became part of his “43rd Street Blues Band.” Her expertise in playing slide guitar has catapulted her into the limelight as the “Queen of Chicago Blues Rock Guitar.”
Connor’s last album, 2021’s 4801 South Indiana Avenue was produced by Joe Bonamassa and Josh Smith. Best of Me was recorded at Chicago’s 2424 Studios and was produced by Shaun Gotti Calloway, Jason J. Roc Edwards and Joanna Connor. The band was Joanna’s regular touring band comprised of Shaun Gotti Calloway on bass guitar, Jason J. Roc Edwards on drums and vocals, Curtis Moore Jr. on keys and Dan Souvigny on guitar and keys. Additional guest musicians include guitarists Joe Bonamassa, Gary Hoey, Josh Smith and Mike Zito, Eric Demmer on saxophone, Jason Ricci on harmonica, David Abbruzzese on drums and the “Grooveline Horns.”
The album contains a total of 11 cuts with two solely written by Connor, six are co-written by Joanna Connor and Shaun Calloway, two are by Shaun Calloway and “Mercury Blues” is an old blues standard. “House Rules” by Calloway is the opening cut with Emcee Frank Pellegrino introducing Joanna which segues into wailing guitar accompanied by an R&B rhythm.
“It’s showtime, it’s our time,
Time to feel the groove”
“Pain and Pleasure” co-authored by Connor and Calloway followed and opened with an ethereal sounding guitar that followed by Connor singing in a jazzy voice with chorus backup and lots of guitar. Josh Smith contributed guitar to this and the previous cut. Surprisingly the title song “Best of Me” was written by Calloway but as Connor explained, the title represents her creating the best environment with the best musicians to push her to be her best and she felt that the album did just that which the song communicated. It begins with a sweet sounding guitar leading into Connor singing a plaintiff sounding blues/gospel while the guitar continues to soar. “Highway Child” was co-written by Calloway and Connor and is a fast paced Country styled Lonnie Mack get down number with a fast fingered guitar driven by pounding drums and Joe Bonamassa on guitar. “I Lost You” is as you might expect from the title a tear jerker and was written by Connor alone. It begins with a metallic sounding guitar accompanied by passionate heart rending blues vocals about her now grown up son.
“Now you’re a man but never forget
You were once my little boy”
Cut #6 opens with a wild screaming guitar before Connor begins spitting out her words to “Two of a Kind” that she co-wrote with her bass player. Calloway’s bass and Edwards’s drums are a driving force while Joanna soars vocally on guitar. “All I Want Is You” is another Connor/Calloway composition that is light and jazzy featuring Curtis Moore’s keys as Connor sings –
“Offers of whiskey, weed and cocaine,
But something is missing please let me explain,
All I want is you.”
“Mercury Blues” written by Robert Geddins and K.C. Douglas and first recorded by Douglas in 1948. Connor’s version of the song begins with a driving piano and guitar peals leading into Joanna begins singing about her “Mercury” with wild keys and features David Abbruzzese on Drums. Steve Miller used to do a jam on “Mercury Blues” for 10 minutes in his early days. Song #9 is “Shadow Lover” which was co-written by Calloway and Connor and features Mike Zito on guitar. It’s a torch song about frustrated love and drives Connor to her vocal limits. “Greatest of These” is the second song written by Connor alone about beginning the day confronted by all the negatives contained in the world driving her to her knees as she prays with hope for a time when there is no “need for power or killing over money.” The song itself is a jazzy interplay between Joanna’s vocals, guitar and Moore’s Keys until she concludes with a quote from I Corinthians 13:13 in the New Testament which states –
“The Greatest of these is love.”
The final cut on the album is “Shine On” which was co-written by Connor and Calloway. It’s rip roaring get down blues rocker featuring Gary Hoey on guitar and Jason Ricci providing harmonica as Joanna belts out the lyrics that provide a stoic Platonic philosophical attitude towards life as Calloway’s thumping bass interplays with the screaming guitars. The album is the end result of a 40 plus year career in providing the blues to a growing audience. Her ability to create the perfect environment for her performance to flourish is apparent by listening to the final result.
The Review 9/10
– Pain and Pleasure
– Highway Child
– Mercury Blues
– Shadow Lover
– Shine On
The Big Hit
– Highway Child
Buy the album: Amazon