Joanna Connor: Rise, M.C. Records
“Joanna Connor might be the best — or most original — blues-based slide guitar player you’re likely to come across today. Or tomorrow.” GUITAR WORLD
Joanna Connor describes herself as “that middle-aged lady with the scorching guitar.” That’s more than a little underselling of herself – she’s been call the Queen of Blues/Rock Guitar, and is without a doubt a tremendously talented and original guitar player. In the past, she’s shared a stage with James Cotton, Junior Wells, Buddy Guy and has eight studio albums and a few live ones behind her before Rise. A video of her playing some incredible slide guitar, complete with mushy guitar-player face from 2014 has been seen by around 1.5m people. She is a guitar-playing tour de force.
Rise, a 12-song mix of jazzy blues, blues-rock and R&B, of course features Connor’s breath-taking guitar work but features a top-notch band, great songs and some fine vocal work from Connor. Mike Zito features on Bad Hand, more Americana than blues, with some sweet guitar soloing.
Joanna in A is a short instrumental track (the best of these tend to be, in my opinion), and it’s an unabashed fast jazz track, piano-driven with horns and xylophone as well as Connor’s tasty guitar. The title track, Rise, another jazzy instrumental follows, a slower number, and together with Joanna in A you appreciate how very good this band is. The third instrumental comes later on a cover of Sly and the Family Stone’s If You Want Me To Stay, again given the jazz treatment to great effect. Since I Fell for You is a late-night jazz number, with lovely acoustic guitar work and sultry vocals from Conner, that you could imagine Diana Krall singing.
My Irish Father starts with some delightful fast harmonics and gives full rein to Connor’s acoustic guitar and slide skills in some Rory Gallagher-esque playing. It’s unmistakably Irish in feel, but thankfully never slides into diddly-dee territory. The mood changes completely in Mutha, fast, blues-rock but with rap lyrics and vocals. We get a good deal more rap on the album closer, Dear America, which features Alphonso Buggz Dinero, over Connor’s incendiary slide. It’s a powerful critique of today’s United States, taking on the rich-poor divide, racism, and the justice system. “Our nation is devastated,” and “America is still judging by the colour of your skin,” cries Dinero, before the bleak conclusion that “It’s hard to be an American,” in today’s Trump-land.
Blues Tonight is an out-and-out blues rock number showing that Connor hasn’t abandoned the blues. Still, it’s much more interesting and sophisticated than most blues-rock, which is often simplistic songs with much guitar-widdling. None of that here.
This is just a terrific album which showcases Connor’s skill as a songwriter, singer and guitarist. It’s intelligent, hugely enjoyable music from a hugely talented artist, backed by an accomplished and musically-polished band. Highly recommended.
Rise was one of our Best Blues Albums of 2019.