July 23, 2024

Joanne Shaw Taylor – Live in Leeds 2024 – “immersion in the flow of the moment”

City Varieties, Leeds 19th February 2024

There’s a fluidity and ease to Joanne Shaw Taylor’s playing that makes an evening like this a joy. Able to play the blues to the highest level, it never feels like showing off and the extensive guitar solos are in service of the song. And she’s not that fussed about purity: “I realised I can record anything I want and call it the blues”. Hence she squeezes in some 80s-flavoured pop and a couple of other things, all flavoured with bluesy expression.

That 80s song is preceded with one of her specialities – the rambling, slightly self-deprecating yarn. As she tells us how cheesy the song’s video is, she describes her fantasy of Billy Bob Thornton being in her music video and falling for her. All with a cheeky smile and a side trip into thrilling at a storm on the Joe Bonamassa Blues Cruise (it’s a real thing), as she could fantasise about the Titanic film. There’s a deep love of the traditions of the Blues that led to her moving from the Black Country to the States to fully live it. In doing so, she found a home on Joe Bonamassa’s Journeyman Records and friendship with him. Much as Bonamassa has the licks, Shaw Taylor outclasses him in heart and feeling, bringing soulful expression to her playing that wins over her audiences.

Tonight in the lovely Leeds City Varieties (home of The Good Old Days 70s TV programme) I wonder if this wouldn’t be better standing. I feel myself responding physically as notes are pulled, stretched, and riffs made solid. The two openers, including Otis Rush’s ‘Keep On Lovin’ Me’, are totally scorching and set the tone. ‘All Of My Love’ is more run of the mill but ‘If You Gotta Make a Fool of Somebody’ (James Ray / Freddie & The Dreamers) shows the evening is going to burn, whether doing blasting soul, Blues shuffles or modern grinding Blues stomps.

She keeps getting the lights turned on: “I write these songs to make you feel – I want to see if it worked”. It did – and the lyric, expressive solos illustrate the emotions before turning up the voltage into screaming, guitar-face gurning, rollicking hurtles through space. I can see in her face the immersion in the flow of the moment and it is part of the winning package. On the two or three songs that aren’t top of my list, there is still a consolation – either:

The Hammond organ and Leslie speaker whirls into heartfelt life or

There will always be a solo and it will always be great or

Joanne’s face will tell you what the music means to her and win you round

There’s an unexplained ‘medical emergency’ and she has to cover with chat, telling us a hilarious story that I can just picture, about Joe Bonamassa’s New York Dad telling him off in a Brooklyn accent. Then there’s just time for a slightly nervous Chantel McGregor (a Bradford lass) to do a bit of guitar sparring before the set winds down. It’s been an evening of charm and lyric guitar along with plenty of rocking and I should mention the excellent guitar picking of opener Connor Selby, who filled a very short half hour with a love of the blues, sat solo without the benefit of a band, yet winning attention.


Here’s a review from late 2022:

Joanne Shaw Taylor – Live in Newcastle 2022 – “she seems to take a life-enhancing energy from squeezing solos out of her guitar.”

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