Joanna Connor – “Best Of Me” CD Review
Best Of Me
Gulf Coast Records
Despite releases on several major labels earlier in her career, Joanna Connor never quite captured the attention of the wider blues audience. Acquiring two weekly gigs in several well-known Chicago clubs allowed her to stay close to home while raising her two children. Her 2021 release, 4801 South Indiana Avenue on Joe Bonammasa’s Keeping The Blues Alive Records, made it clear that her guitar work is as captivating as ever.
Her new album finds her on Gulf Coast Records, run by Mike Zito and Guy Hale. They wisely had Connor record with her band, giving the proceedings several extra layers of tightness that comes from deep familiarity with the ten originals and one cover. Her songwriting partner on most tracks is Shaun Gotti Calloway, who consistently lays down some deep grooves on his bass guitar. Jason J Roc Edwards is the other half of the crack rhythm section, adding taut accents with his expert stick work. Dan Souvigny handles the rhythm guitar duties, and plays keyboards on three tracks, while Curtis Moore Jr. plays a variety of keyboards throughout the project.
The opening declaration from Frank Pellegrino, of Kingston Mines fame, reminds listeners that Connor embodies funk, soul, and blues, with plenty of love in her heart. Once the band kicks in on “House Rules,” Connor immediately proves the accuracy of his assessment. The Grooveline Horns spice up the arrangement, with guest Eric Demmer contributing some hearty saxophone solos. “Pain And Pleasure” glides along with a soulful strut, giving Connor and guest Josh Smith space for a dynamic guitar dialogue. The title track wraps a sorrowful Connor vocal into a swirling musical landscape that forces listeners to feel every bit of her despair.
The horns return on “Two Of A Kind,” a funky rocker complete with one of Connor’s red-hot guitar soliloquies. The lone cover, the classic “Mercury Blues,” is a feature for Connor’s blazing slide guitar skills while the jaunty “Highway Child” finds her sharing the spotlight with Bonamassa for another guitar rave-up. Zito makes an appearance on guitar on “Shadow Lover,” as Connor pleads for some loving caresses.
The closer, “Shine On,” is a hard rocking tune with key contributions from Gary Hoey on guitar and Jason Ricci on harmonica. But it is the six-string magic from Connor that leaves a lasting impression, just as she does throughout this fine album that showcases her many talents in fine fashion.
– Mark Thompson
Album review originally appeared in Blues Music Magazine