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Joanna Connor's latest CD on her new label, MC Records, represents a long standing desire to create music straight from her heart. The Joanna Connor Band fittingly has the same title as her 1992 debut CD on the German label INAK, since this 2002 recording represents a musical new beginning for this fine Chicago-based guitarist. Much like the "experimental" album constructed by Johnny Clyde Copeland in 1985, Bringing It All Back Home, on The Joanna Connor Band, Connor attempts to create a sound that blends the music from the "Motherland" of Africa, her home Chicago and the Delta region of Mississippi. Overall, the CD combines the sounds and rhythms of Africa with the hard edged blues and slide guitar that has been the hallmark of Joanna Connor's career. The result of Ms. Connor's personally-driven experiment is a very interesting 14 song recording that includes 10 original songs and four covers that have been given very original treatments based on Connor's personal vision.
The Joanna Connor Band opens with a Connor original called "Fine & Sublime" that includes an interesting rhythmic pattern and Teo Reynold's harp taking the place of an African gourd horn. The word pictures painted by the lyrics are very striking and the song is broken midway through by some very Chicago-style guitar. "Fine & Sublime" is followed by "Long Long Road," written by Connor and her long time musical partner, Anthony Palmer. The song has a nice, comfortable walking blues style with lyrics that seem to be offering thanks for a very special friendship between two people who have been there for each other at every step on the depicted long long road of life.
"No Black Or White," another original drifts back again into the Africa-Chicago blend of sound with the African sounds backing the lyrics interrupted dramatically by some hard edged slide guitar that has the Connor signature sound. More African horn style harmonica by Teo Reynolds permeates the next song, "Luna Love." This song has a strolling feeling to it with more imaginative lyrics and an edgy guitar and slide solo breaking up the song. The following song, "Different Kind Of War," seems to speak dramatically to the loss of humanity in the world as we embrace the power of technology to fight our wars and kill, losing sight of the humanity that is being destroyed in the process. This song has significantly more guitar than the previous songs, but the sound is clearly outside of your standard blues fare.
The first cover to appear on The Joanna Connor Band is "Slipping Into Darkness," a classic Motown song that has been given a dramatic facelift by Connor and company. Even with the facelift, the song maintains is Motown edge and features some very nice, more traditional sounding harp, an exceptional keyboard solo by Roosevelt "Mad Hatter" Purifoy and an outstanding guitar solo by Anthony Palmer.
After "Slipping Into Darkness," The Joanna Connor Band goes back for a two more original tunes, "Six Child" and the instrumental "Guitar Dove." While "Six Child" maintains the "new" sound that Connor is working so hard to create, "Guitar Dove" takes on a more traditional blues-rock sound and includes some of the most powerful guitar work on the entire CD, along with some very jazzy sounding organ from Roosevelt Purifoy.
The next two songs on the CD are two of my favorites. First, is Connor's cover of the classic, "Fever," that provides a hard edged twist to this great song and more great guitar by Connor. This is followed by another original, "Minor Love," which has a different, spacey sound with periodic minor chord twists. The song talks openly about the pain of lost loves and the difficult healing process that one must go through before they can find their soul and be fully healed.
Back on the cover front, the next song is Sam Cooke's, "Somebody Have Mercy," the most traditional song on The Joanna Connor Band and a very well sung duet by Joanna Connor and Mike Wheeler who also offers a nice guitar solo. The song also includes more nice harp fills by Teo Reynolds and another blistering solo by Connor.
The Joanna Connor Band moves into the final phase of this musical journey with the heavy funk sound of "White Lines" with its powerful bass line and driving drum beat. Connor is at her guitar playing best on this song and creates a sound that makes you just want to get up and move around. The same could be said about the next song, "Afrissippi," but for very different reasons. With African sounding rhythms and an interesting sound that is reminiscent of the music of Olu Dara, this song also contains a sound that make you want to get up and dance freestyle.
The CD ends its musical travels with the very African sounding "Morning Please," a song that would sound quite natural on Johnny Copeland's album from 17 years earlier with its earthy, almost reggae sound and lyrics that praise the Lord and the earth for what it provides. As it concludes, The Joanna Connor Band has its mastermind, Joanna Connor, seemingly believing that she had succeeded in blending the music of several cultures into one satisfying potpourri of sound.
To learn more about The Joanna Connor Band and to pick up a copy of the new self-titled CD, visit the MC Records website at www.mc-records.com, or visit your local record store and experience the new sound of Joanna Connor on The Joanna Connor Band.
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