Joe Bonamassa impresses at The Coach House
Back in February, increasingly acclaimed singer-guitarist Joe Bonamassa released the seventh and strongest album of his burgeoning career, the aptly-titled The Ballad of John Henry.
Featuring a mix of slow, soulful blues (a version of Tom Waits' "Jockey Full of Bourbon," his own "Happier Times"), classic-sounding British blues-rock ("Feelin' Good," "The Great Flood"), the disc's dozen tracks explore the struggles and contributions of real-life working-class heroes.
But performing before a fervent, capacity crowd on Tuesday night, Nov. 10, 2009 at The Coach House in San Juan Capistrano, Bonamassa was another kind of hero altogether - the consummate guitar hero - who gave those everyday Joes he profiles on his latest studio effort a two-hour breather from the uncertain times that have marked the latter half of this decade.
Anyone who has seen Bonamassa, 32, knows the Upstate New York native can shred on six strings. Watching his 15-song performance on Tuesday, it was clear his approach is about much more than the speed and number of notes he played - it's about his bond with the guitar and his band, as well as the emotional depths he reaches with his music.
Kicking off this first of two Coach House gigs by belting his latest title track, Bonamassa's powerful vocals at times recalled Bad Company frontman Paul Rodgers, showcasing just how many skills this long-gestating new star has in his impressive sonic arsenal. And no matter the song, Bonamassa's fretwork lent artful shading to his arrangements.
Although Bonamassa generally let his music making do the talking, he did take a break in the set to note that Nov. 10 marked the 20th anniversary of his first professional show (he has been playing guitar since age 5). He and his band - bassist Carmine Rojas, keyboardist Rick Melick and incredible drummer Bogie Bowles - celebrated the occasion with memorable performances of some of his greatest material, including the fast rocker "Lonesome Road Blues" (akin to primo Eric Clapton) and the beautiful "Happier Times," during which his vocals took center stage.
Whether in a club or outdoors at a festival, something magnetic happens when Bonamassa steps to the front of the stage, leans his head back and simply lets loose. Now that the virtuoso guitarist has teamed that astonishing gift with his vocals and songcraft, best watch out - he might finally get recognized as the next Stevie Ray Vaughan after all.
Shawn Jones, a Southern California-based singer-songwriter-guitarist, displayed many of the same instincts as Bonamassa throughout his 45-minute performance. Armed with an authentic, emotive voice, Jones used every verse, chorus and guitar break to share real feeling with the receptive crowd. His eight-song set here was highlighted by the Delta blues-ish "Glorybound," an upbeat and crowd-pleasing "I Can't Help Myself" and a beautiful ballad titled "Heaven's Daughter" that showcased his dazzling guitar playing and strong vocals.