Joe Bonamassa loves a live album and, apparently, so do his fans. This effort pushes the overall number closer to 20, a double digit that would have seemed even unthinkable for the Grateful Dead to have in its official discography by the time the San Francisco group called it a day in 1995. Those were different times, of course. Albums were still a point of interest for the consumer; true fans would shell over plenty of lucre to get their hands on a hot-burnt night in New Brunswick or Sheepshead Bay and MTV served as another radio station, broadcasting the hippest and latest into television room from Portland, Oregon all the way to Portland, Maine. There were, of course, those nattering acoustic albums that crept into the marketplace, buoyed by MTV’s Unplugged series, providing insights both revelatory (Eric Clapton) and tragic (Arrested Development).

Bonamassa remains the be-all and end-all for some lovers of guitar driven music that some might call the blues, a man whose name burns brightest in that pantheon just a notch or two below that of Buddy Guy these days. At his best, Ol’ Handsome Joe can rip, snort, and blow your speakers with the best of them. At his worst? Milquetoast. It’s the latter Bonamassa that turns up across much of this. Saddled with material that often doesn’t have the compositional dynamics of “Layla” or even “Tears in Heaven,” the tracks sometimes slip so far into laid back they become horizontal.

“Drive” bounces along like a stoned rendition of “Long Train Runnin’,” Reese Wyans’ trusty piano skills the saving grace. Perhaps the liner notes would be wise to feature a warning that would should not operate heavy machinery while listening. Yeah, there’s some admirable enough fretwork going on, some bending and honking of ye olde six string but you can always get that at grandpa’s Saturday night pickin’ party. “Get Back My Tomorrow” at least finds the venerable guitar collector channeling his inner Robin Trower, sounding mean and angry, capable of giving you back your well-deserved bullets.

There is a terrific take on Leon Russell’s “Hummingbird,” Bonamassa playing with the familiar vocal phrasing, weaving and bobbing with Wyans who gives the performance of lifetime (despite some iffy backing vocals that momentarily transport us to Disneyland). A take on Amanda McBroom’s “The Rose” serves as a nice shot a reigniting an old flame. The tune’s status as a favorite for high school graduations, funerals and the like remains unwavering for a reason: it’s sentimental to a fault and without a vocalist of Bette Midler’s skill becomes eaten alive by its own worst tendencies. It’s a failure but an admirable one.

Elsewhere, “The Valley Runs Low” spotlights the whole band (including Hooters man Eric Bazillian and the world’s most dangerous drummer, Anton Fig) and the Bon man remains comfortably in his emotional and musical depth, never reaching for something that he can’t grasp, never underselling himself. Still, “Black Lung Heartache” sounds more like something written for “Documentary Now!” than something from cool, jeweled swamps of Mississippi. The real clincher, price-of-admission track is “Song of Yesterday,” a co-write with longtime producer Kevin Shirley and on-again, off-again Black Country Communion Bandmate Glenn Hughes, a reminder that our man of perpetual guitar hunts is frequently best with a strong collaborator. Hughes has been a good foil over the years and news that BCC will issue new music within the confines of 2017 should fill us with a hope so deep that we forgive JB for all that we don’t like here.

Yes, hardcore fans will eat this up like the faithful munching on those not-gluten-free holy wafers come Sunday morning. Critical listener conversation will only happen by force.

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