If you want to know why Joe Bonamassa has released Now Serving: Royal Tea Live From The Ryman (11 June 2021; Provogue/Mascot Label Group) shortly after releasing Royal Tea you need to look no further than the track Conversation with Alice.
The live version bursts with more emotion from the off, bubbles in the interim and closes with Smokin’ Joe, on his Fender Strat, and Nashville guitarist Rob McNelly, playing a thrilling harmony line together.
Drummer Greg Morrow is also brought in for the live performance, along with backing vocalists Jade MacRae and Danielle De Andrea. Perhaps I should say ‘live performance in pandemic times’, because this show was put on via live stream, with the only ‘audience’ present being 1,700 cardboard cut-outs. No matter; you can imagine how frustrating it must be to have to cancel a tour when you have your whole band hot from the studio and itching to get out and play. Here all the frustration and energy is channeled into putting on a great show and capturing it on DVD and record for fans’ pleasure.
This new live version comprises 12 tracks, including nine of Royal Tea’s 10 tracks (it misses out Savannah for unknown reasons), in a slightly different running order.
Like the parent album, the show at the Ryman Auditorium kicks off with When One Door Opens, but the difference can really start to be seen with High Class Girl and especially the harmonica, harp, and distorted bass-driven Lookout Man. The band really come into their element at this point, and the whole experience becomes much more enjoyable.
Harpist Jimmy Hall and keyboardist Reece Wynan feature on Lonely Boy, giving the song a weight it doesn’t have on the studio version. This upbeat cut is one of the album’s standouts, and you just know that if you had been lucky enough to be present at the gig you’d be moving your feet as you listen.
The boogie I Didn’t Think She Would Do It showcases Bonamassa’s guitar chops once more, and again makes you want to move. This is followed by a change of tempo on a seven minute version of Beyond The Silence, which has a different arrangement and is consequently one of my favourite tracks on this album.
Rory Gallagher’s Cradle Rock, Free’s Walk In My Shadow and Jethro Tull’s A New Day Yesterday – with a dash of Starship Trooper – close proceedings nicely.
I expect there would have been a big debate among Bonamassa’s team about whether or not to add canned applause to this performance. In these pandemic times, Premier League football and a number of other shows have decided to include it; it is a dilemma - I don’t like it, but I appreciate it sounds stark without it.
There is plenty to welcome about this album. On top of the outstanding music, the event sold over 17,000 tickets, and raised $32,000 for Bonamassa’s Fueling Musicians charity (to help struggling musicians), along with the spirits of his global fanbase. “I have always wanted to film a show at the legendary Ryman Auditorium…” says Bonamassa, “[however,] we missed you”.