Joanna Connor made her way to Chicago from New England in 1989. She played with a number of blues legends there, gaining experience, while becoming a distinctive and powerful guitarist in her own right. Growing up in the '70s, she probably heard as many Southern-rock and heavy-metal guitarists as she did blues players. As a consequence, theres also a little bit of arena-rock guitar god in her.
But shes got the chops to back it up. Shes a forceful guitarist whose stinging solos rarely fall back on stock riffs. Although she shows some signs of having been influenced by Stevie Ray Vaughan, she doesnt blindly copy him the way so many current players do. Her slide playing is every bit as solid and melodic as her single-note solos and she doesnt hog the spotlight, either. Organist Roosevelt Purifoy, harpist Ted Reynolds, and second guitarist Anthony Palmer each have generous solo time granted to them on Connors newest, The Joanna Connor Band.
Of the 14 tracks on the CD, Connor wrote nine and co-wrote another. One of them, "Minor Love," is a well-constructed tune built on a minor-chord progression. It has the strongest melody on the disc, and Connor turns in a nicely controlled vocal that demonstrates a feel for jazz singing. The other self-penned songs range in quality from tolerable to poor for an artist with eight discs under her belt. Most of her songs on this disc are built on a riff rather than a chord progression, and the melodies stay within an extremely narrow range. The lyrics tend to use a lot of hippie/new-age imagery that doesnt mesh well with the earthiness of the blues, and the attempts at topical commentary sound na´ve.
Every time Ms. Connor steps up for a guitar solo, she seems to be full of great ideas, and she takes chances, so her timidity at writing melodies that would challenge her as a singer seems puzzling. In "Minor Love," she drops the Bonnie Raitt mannerisms that inform her singing on the rest of the disc and stakes out some territory of her own. Raitt has influenced virtually every white female blues singer around, so its not surprising that Connor has learned things from her. However, Conner shows signs of having real potential as a singer, and I hope she starts writing songs that bring out her talents in that area.
Joanna Connor has been recording long enough that she already has developed formidable technical skills as a guitarist and singer. If she can begin to write good songs (or, perhaps, rely more on good material by others), she could be a star in the blues world.
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