Joe Bonamassa, “Tiger in Your Tank” (2015): One Track Mind

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Making blues analogies between sexual prowess and a powerful automobile was no new thing when Muddy Waters recorded Willie Dixon’s “Tiger in Your Tank” in 1960 — a track that lifted the then-current slogan for Esso gas. What made the song so nervy and erotic was the way Waters attacked the lyric over an unusual Chuck Berry-inspired eight-beat pattern from Francis Clay, sounding like a boastful youngster again — somebody with something to prove.

Enter Joe Bonamassa, who not only takes on the same song as part of his forthcoming Muddy Wolf at Red Rocks live tribute project, but even includes a snippet of Muddy Waters’ contemporary performance at the Newport Jazz Festival as part of the accompanying video.

He’s doing more than inviting comparisons; he’s all but demanding them. And that’s a disservice to Joe Bonamassa, to say nothing of his contemporaries — or even, quite frankly, many of Muddy’s contemporaries.

After all, Muddy Waters remains a force of nature, the entire package both as a vocalist and instrumentalist, an acknowledged touchstone even decades after his death, a full-grown man. Bonamassa simply can’t tap into the well of emotion that Waters held at the ready, can’t dig down into Willie Dixon’s lyric for the turbulent detail that he so readily found.

Instead, Joe often simply barks out the words, focused more it seems on the instrumental portion of things.

Luckily, there’s much to recommend musically, as Joe Bonamassa amasses a jooky orchestra to accompany him before a sold-out crowd at Red Rocks Amphitheater in Colorado. Even as he unleashes a series of stinging asides on guitar (I like the way Joe smartly updates Waters’ original turn on slide), his swaying backing group punches things up with bright blasts of horns and these lickety-split runs down the ivories.

By being more interesting instrumentally than it is rudimentary vocally, “Tiger in Your Tank” is saved, though just barely. In keeping, this lead song makes clear the difficulty Joe Bonamassa — really, anybody — has in taking on Chess legends like Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf, men whose catalogs are as deep as they are sacrosanct. Muddy Wolf at Red Rocks, due on March 23, 2015 via Provogue, has its work cut out.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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