Walter Tunis: Joe Bonamassa is set to rip Rupp

Contributing Music WriterApril 24, 2014 

Joe Bonamassa returns to Rupp Arena for a concert on Friday.

CHRISTIE GOODWIN

  • THE WEEK THAT WAS

    Bobby McFerrin at the Norton Center for the Arts in Danville: As his performance headed into the home stretch, Bobby McFerrin took the roots-driven mix of gospel, blues and jazz references that formed the basis of the program and lit a fuse to it.

    The catalyst tune was 25:15, a blues incantation adapted out of the Book of Psalms that stands as a modest Americana mood piece on McFerrin's recent album spirityouall. Here, the song was a monster. Possessing an almost respiratory flexibility, it locked the vocalist and an immensely versed band — one that included veteran jazz keyboard ace Gil Goldstein and pop/folk multi-instrumentalist David Mansfield — into tumultuous unison. The resulting torrent rose and deflated over and over under a single, repeated lyric until McFerrin's four-octave voice became a stratospheric wail. It was what you could call serious — if not downright frightening — testimony.

    The tune's intensity was a shock only because the rest of the performance was so unassuming with McFerrin proving a cordial host that summoned decidedly lighter spirits during a reggae-fied revision of Swing Low, the non-spirityouall inclusion of Blind Faith's Can't Find My Way Home, a singalong version of Whole World that allowed four very capable audience patrons to sing the chorus on their own and a slightly darker original, Woe, that spoke to most any time of social hardship.

    As usual, McFerrin was something of an alchemist onstage. His voice was regularly used as an all-purpose instrumental tool throughout the program. It veered into rounds of traditional scat singing and expanded into layered sounds that mimicked bass and percussion patterns, the latter having been a trait of his live shows for decades.

    Not surprisingly, such a sense of discovery possessed a hefty dose of playfulness, whether McFerrin was greeting an invited audience member by impersonating John Wayne or asking a stage hand to bring him a sweater to shake off an onstage chill by singing the request.

    But on 25:15, the gospel took over and the ensemble's vocal and instrumental symmetry skyrocketed. It was a reminder that while sometimes the spirit might move you, there are also instances when it may give you a good hearty shove instead.

Joe Bonamassa

8 p.m. April 25 at Rupp Arena, 430 W. Vine St. $60-$99. (859) 233-3535 or Ticketmaster, 1-800-745-3000 or Ticketmaster.com.

Think "prolific" in reference to your everyday national recording and touring artist, and you might picture a performer who devotes a few months to the road while squeezing out a new album every other year.

Now get a load of what the term really means. Throughout his career, blues-rock guitar kingpin Joe Bonamassa, 36, has played roughly 200 concerts a year — long, energized shows built equally on multiple blues-based traditions that showcase his considerable strengths as an instrumentalist and a library of original songs that has increasingly expanded the stylistic breadth of his music.

So visible, in fact, has Bonamassa been as a touring artist that this year, he has a lineup of four new recording projects, three of which are live documents of his stage work.

Two are already out. The first was a CD/DVD/Blu-ray set by Rock Candy Funk Party, the multi-genre groove quintet Bonamassa moonlights with. Its new Rock Candy Funk Party Takes New York chronicles a three-night engagement at the Iridium jazz club in Times Square.

New to stores in recent weeks is Live in Amsterdam, which continues Bonamassa's alliance with roots-rock belter Beth Hart. The recording was made from performances the two gave last summer, just months before Hart royally ripped things up here at a concert at the Lexington Opera House with The Rides in September.

Then we have four — yes, four — more live CDs coming in May under the blanket title Tour de Force: Live in London that document different stylistic aspects to Bonamassa's music (and different configurations of his band) through recordings made at four London venues. Video editions of the performances were issued late in 2013.

Finally, a new studio album will cap the recording frenzy later in the year.

Now, how does all this play into Bonamassa's return to town? Quite a bit. Friday's concert will differ from the guitarist's Lexington shows in 2010 (at the Opera House) and 2012 (his Rupp Arena debut). Those shows were devoted exclusively to the blues-rock variations that have won Bonamassa much of his international fan base. That sound will dominate the second half of Friday's concert. But it will begin with an acoustic set that extends into numerous world music inspirations. Such a setting will surround the guitarist with instrumentation created on Irish banjo, fiddle, nyckelharpa, harmonium, accordion, mandola and myriad percussion elements.

For a sample of such distinctive stylistic meshing, listen to Bonamassa's 2013 live album, An Acoustic Evening at the Vienna Opera House. Better yet, head to Rupp, where Bonamassa will serve up the global stew live with a hearty side order of the blues.

Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder

7:30 p.m. April 25 at the EKU Center for the Arts, 521 Lancaster Ave. in Richmond. $32.30-$39. (859) 353-6382. Ekucenter.com.

You can't accuse Ricky Skaggs of ignoring the inspirations of his home state.

His 2013 autobiography is titled Kentucky Traveler. It's a tremendous read, too, that takes us from the veteran bluegrass/county star's childhood in Cordell, where he learned to play mandolin at age 5, through performance tenures with J.D. Crowe and Emmylou Harris to a lifelong friendship with Bill Monroe and Skaggs' own remarkable performance career.

Then we have his longrunning band, a troupe of virtuoso bluegrass musicians dubbed Kentucky Thunder. Distinguished by such ace instrumentalists as fiddler Andy Leftwich, this is the band Skaggs utilizes to full effect on Cluck Ol' Hen, his 2013 concert recording with progressive pop piano man Bruce Hornsby.

Better still, Kentucky Thunder will be the troupe Skaggs will graze the bluegrass with Friday at the EKU Center for the Arts in Richmond.

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