Reviews

Joe Bonamassa: Live at the Hollywood Bowl with Orchestra Review

Joe Bonamassa is releasing an exciting new project this month that shows the bluesman taking a big risk and pushing his music into new areas. Out June 21 via J&R Adventures, Live at the Hollywood Bowl With Orchestra isn’t your average Bonamassa live album—for this project, he invited a 40-piece orchestra to join him. While Bonamassa’s first-ever performance at Los Angeles’ iconic Hollywood Bowl in August 2023 was also caught on video, the portion recorded for his new live album focuses on 11 songs that span his entire career as a solo artist.

Live at the Hollywood Bowl begins with a two-minute orchestral performance of “When the Door Opens” from 2020’s Royal Tea, the album that most recently earned Bonamassa a Grammy nomination. The song was arranged for this album by Jeff Bova, who contributed additional arrangements on Live at the Hollywood Bowl along with Trevor Rabin, bassist Calvin Turner and conductor David Campbell.

The cinematic tone of Live at the Hollywood Bowl becomes immediately clear on “When the Door Opens,” alerting listeners that Bonamassa is trying something new and trusting dozens of other musicians to pull it off. Under Campbell’s stewardship, the orchestra takes center stage during the album opener but shifts into a supporting role on “Curtain Call,” underlining Bonamassa’s vocals and guitar performance in some moments and maintaining a more muted presence in others, such as when he steps up for his solo. The addition of the orchestra is especially powerful in the second half of “Curtain Call” as the musicians intensify the tension and leave listeners on edge until the song’s explosive end.

Bonamassa and his band (keyboardist Reese Wynans, guitarist Josh Smith, drummer Lemar Carter, backing vocalists Jade MacRae and Dannielle DeAndrea, and Turner on bass) feel more front and center on “Self-Inflicted Wounds,” “No Good Place for the Lonely” and “Ball Peen Hammer” as the orchestra accents their performances, with the wind section in particular bringing an entirely new and unexpected element to “Ball Peen Hammer” halfway through the song.

Adding new instruments to “The Last Matador of Bayonne” makes the song even more dramatic than when it first appeared on Bonamassa’s 2011 album Dust Bowl, with trumpeter Rashawn Ross setting the song’s tone for the new live album through a full minute-long intro. Live at the Hollywood Bowl also finds the drama heightened on “Prisoner” and “The Ballad of John Henry” as the orchestra delicately fills the quiet spaces in both songs while building to an impressive crescendo in “If Heartaches Were Nickels.”

While the added orchestra introduces new elements to each song, “If Heartaches Were Nickels” serves as one example where Bonamassa’s original finds itself entirely transformed. The bluesman’s first iteration of the Warren Haynes-penned track that he released more than two decades ago had a dramatic build of its own, a quality that the 40-piece orchestra slowly feeds for the live album with support from MacRae and DeAndrea. The song becomes even more heartbreakingly beautiful, an effecting portrayal of emotion and frustrated desperation to grasp something just out of reach.

Bonamassa’s live album closes with one of his more recent tracks and an older fan favorite: “Twenty-Four Hour Blues,” the Bobby “Blue” Bland cover from 2023’s Blues Deluxe Vol. 2, and “Sloe Gin,” the Tim Curry cover featured on 2007’s Sloe Gin. In “Twenty-Four Hour Blues,” Bonamassa puts his guitar expertise back in the spotlight as he solos near the track’s midway point and lets his fingers fly when the song nears its conclusion. Given how iconic “Sloe Gin” is among fans, it feels like the perfect song to end this particular live album with as Bonamassa checks a big performance off his personal bucket list. The song features a careful balance of Bonamassa’s band and his orchestral accompaniment, making for a beautiful blending.

Live at the Hollywood Bowl arrives as an impressive feat, a successful attempt by Bonamassa to expand some of his fans’ favorite songs in new ways as he encourages listeners to hear the material in ways they might have otherwise never imagined. Though Bonamassa’s listeners won’t always want the full orchestral treatment applied to his songs, this experiment is one many fans would certainly be interested in hearing again.

The Review: 9/10

Can’t Miss Tracks

– Curtain Call
– Ball Peen Hammer
– The Last Matador of Bayonne
– Sloe Gin

The Big Hit

– Sloe Gin

6 thoughts on “Joe Bonamassa: Live at the Hollywood Bowl with Orchestra Review

  • Sounds like another lame JB release. It’s Blues, not Mozart. I’ve noticed that JB and cohort Josh Smith use a lot of horns, multiple back up singers and strings. Also it shows up in the artists albums they produce (i’e.: Mike Zito’s new album, Eric Gales Crown, Larry McCray Blues Without You). The results is an over produced and over busy album loaded with production that ultimately takes away the basics of what makes up Blues Rock. It’s a production trick to make weak songs sound bigger and better than what they are. I’m not a hater, just want more music that comes from talent and good song writing instead of production and pretense.

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  • Yawn. Joe’s eighth live album (counting the one he did with Beth Hart). Just another money grab. His stuff all sounds the same anymore excluding Blues Deluxe 2. I’ll pass.

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  • @Jay and Pete above: ‘sounds’ like….and yet…you’ve yet to actually hear this! and…did you even read the article? He is introducing something unique and new to his music. you are fine to have your personal thoughts…but they hold little weight when you have not yet even heard the Track-list. I’m three songs in tonight….so fine! so fine! Thank you, Joe for giving your magic another sparkle!

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    • As you clearly stated I’m allowed to have my “personal thoughts”. You have yours. The difference is I’m not trying to correct your opinion, just giving one. As for doing something new, there is nothing unique about JB flooding the Blues scene rehashing much of his luke warm material with a twist (i.e.: acoutic, then 4 shows in different clubs in England resulting in 4 lame live albums), this time it is with an orchchestra. Maybe his next one will be a techno version of John Henry. And there’s also nothing new about his fans thinking everything he does is world shaking music. So maybe with your permission of course, we can just agree to disagree.

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  • Joe Bonamassa carries his own very well and Thank You Hollywood Bowl for adding more Stars to that nights sky! ✨ PS loved the article

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  • Now that’s what Smokin’ Joe Bonamassa is doing real big from the very beginning. This is 28th #1 album on the Billboard Top Blues Albums chart and this is his crowning achievement! Crown him y’all!

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