Music News & Reviews

Guitar whiz Joe Bonamassa pushes stylistic boundaries

Joe Bonamassa

8 p.m. April 30 at the Lexington Opera House, 401 W. Short. $39, $49, $59, $69. (859) 233-3535 or Ticketmaster, 1-800-745-3000 or

To say Joe Bonamassa has grown up with the blues oversimplifies the aim and inspiration behind this remarkable Utica, N.Y.-born guitarist who headlines what is easily the most recommended Derby Eve bash on Lexington soil.

A child prodigy on electric guitar, Bonamassa was picking away on contemporary blues-rock works at 7. He was opening for the likes of B.B. King by the time he was 12, but the young guitarist also identified with unappreciated guitar greats Rory Gallagher, Peter Green, early Jeff Beck and especially his late mentor, Danny Gatton.

Bonamassa also ate up the electric Texas blues of Stevie Ray Vaughan, as so many of his contemporaries did. But players like Gallagher and Gatton seldom receive props from succeeding rock and blues generations. Their inspirations definitely add to the muscular guitar tone that Bonamassa, who turns 33 next week, has developed.

You hear the darker, meatier stride of Gallagher's Blueprint-era work in the title tune of Bonamassa's 2008 album The Ballad of John Henry, and the original When the Fire Hits the Sea approximates the loose but driving groove of late-'60s John Mayall.

The latter tune is a highlight of Bonamassa's new album Black Rock, a record that stretches Bonamassa's stylistic frame to new limits.

It boasts a classic by Beck (the 1969 Beck-ola gem Spanish Boots), a comparative John Hiatt obscurity (I Know a Place from 2001's The Tiki Bar Is Open), signature tunes by Leonard Cohen and Willie Nelson (Bird on a Wire and Night Life, respectively) and blasts of solid but discreet blues might in Otis Rush's Three Times a Fool and Blind Boy Fuller's Baby You Gotta Change Your Mind.

Sure, Derby time promotes exaltation. But with Bonamassa in town Friday night, expect the fun to take a decidedly blue turn.

Derby night rock

Probably the biggest abnormality surrounding Derby Day is Derby night. The big race is a thing of the past by 7 p.m. By then, the hangovers are already knocking at the door. The result is the same sort of citywide daze that many folks have on New Year's Day. For those still with some oomph left once the Derby is done, though, here are two concert picks to help keep the fun in motion.

■ Playing Cosmic Charlie's, 388 Woodland Avenue, on Saturday night will be the always fun roots-rock trio Southern Culture on the Skids. The band is touring behind its 2007 album, Countrypolitan Favorites. But the party mood established by the covers collection remains bountiful. The clear highlight: The Byrds' sublime Have You Seen Her Face, delivered with faithful hullabaloo charm. (10 p.m. $14. (859) 309-9499.

■ Canadian songsmith Fred Eaglesmith is having a banner spring. First, his rugged Americana tune Freight Train winds up as the title track on Alan Jackson's new album. Then Eaglesmith put the finishing touches on a new record called Cha Cha Cha, due out in June. Now we have his concert return to the ultra-intimate Millville Community Center, 6715 McCracken Pike, near Frankfort. Extraordinary multistylistic banjoist/guitarist/ songwriter Danny Barnes (definitely check out his progressive bluegrass/vintage country- flavored 2003 album Dirt on the Angel) and The Fabulous Ginn Sisters (who describe their album You Can't Take a Bad Girl Home as "a smoky, drunken stumble through a broken heart junkyard") will open. The Ginns also will also as part of Eaglesmith's band. (7 p.m. $15. (859) 873-2222.)