Saturday, February 6, 2021

Joanna Connor - 4801 South Indiana Avenue

BOOM-BA-DA-BOOM!  An offbeat train-like rhythm kicks in, and a second later a blizzard of slide guitar follows it.  Joanna Connor is off and running, heading for the ‘Destination’ of the opening track, and for your own safety you’d better stand back behind the yellow line.
‘Destination’ is locomotive chugalong boogie, with additional guitars from producers Joe Bonamassa and Josh Smith underpinning Connor’s slide.  Reese Wynans whacks out some Johnnie Johnson-like piano, adding roll to the rock, and over the top of all that Connor delivers a raucous, assertive vocal, counterpointed by backing vocals from Jimmy Hall.
Joanna Connor - not as quiet as she looks
Pic by Maryam Wilcher
Yessiree folks, if you have a taste for rip-roaring slide guitar and a woman who sings with Joplin-esque abandon, then 4801 South India Avenue is the album for you.
If you don’t believe me, cop an earful of ‘I Feel So Good’.  Connor serves up a slide frenzy intro like screaming tyres, then hollers “Weeeeeeelllll . . . I feel so good I’m gonna boogie till the break of day!”  A slight exaggeration, given that the track last three and a half minutes, but it does roar along like a souped-up Ford till it downshifts into a slide-and-drums passage, then some especially pizzicato-like slide on the way to a chain-yanking ending.
There’s an appealing retro vibe to songs like ‘Come Back Home’, ‘For The Love Of A Man’, and ‘Please Help’, reflecting their provenance.  The first, penned by Hound Dog Taylor, with its rolling blues riff and sprinkles of piano, brings to mind Beano-era Bluesbreakers, with Connor delivering a powerful, well-phrased and emotive vocal, and scything slide work.  ‘For The Love Of A Man’, a Don Nix tune recorded by Albert King, rolls out a ‘Crossroads’-type riff that’s taken up by the horns that appear on a few tracks, and adds in a smile-inducing up-and-down turnaround reminiscent of the Hendrix take on ‘Hey Joe’.  And JB Hutto’s ‘Please Help’ takes another vintage-sounding riff and sprinkles slide over the top, while Connor drops her voice into a marginally lower register, and takes her slide skating over what an unusually placed, almost counter-intuitive beat.
The slow blues of Luther Allison’s ‘Bad News’ may be topped and tailed by the naff, unnecessary tolling of a funereal bell, but otherwise it delivers the goods, from its synthy bass sound to Connor’s weeping slide and plaintive vocal.  Her solo is characterful, and Reese Wynans cools off the anguish a tad with a virtuoso piano solo.
Connor has one belter of a voice, and gets soulful on the horn-laden ‘Trouble Trouble’, on which she also delivers a gritty solo that’s fraught with tension.  But wielding that muscular larynx with more subtlety wouldn’t go amiss at times, as she hollers all the way through to the strut-riffed ‘Cut You Loose’, which slows and quickens in curious fashion, taking in a woozy slide solo en route to a crash-bang conclusion.
Eventually though, she brings more dynamics to her singing on the easier-going last but one track ‘Part Time Love’, with warm organ from Wynans, some velvety sax from Mark Douthit, and subtle, rolling waves of horns.  Oh yeah, and Joey B sticks his head above the parapet to trade some licks with Connor.  It’s a song that could usefully have been slotted in earlier to apply some coolant to the steaming engine, rather than sitting back-to-back with the following ‘It’s My Time’.  A slinky and sultry affair with a semi-spoken vocal, over a subtle rolling rhythm, the closer combines twangy guitar chords mingle and some spacey keyboard trills, and Connor adds another stylish touch with her cool, angular solo.
Credit to Bonamassa and Josh Smith, and engineer JJ Blair for the huge, live sound – there’s no chance of Connor hiding her light under a bushel with this mix.  4801 South Indiana Avenue isn’t perfect, but it is one juggernaut of a blues album.  Maybe it’s been overdue, but I can hear Joanna Connor’s train a-comin’.

4801 South Indiana Avenue is released by KTBA Records on 26 February, and is available to pre-order from https://shop.jbonamassa.com/collections/ktba-records.

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