4801 South Indiana Avenue
Joanna Connor's shreds on guitar. The energy of her solos defines her sound, torrents of notes flying out of from under her slide guitar, improbably melodic and orderly. Shredding has connotations of technique over feel, but Connor isn't working through fretboard exercises; she's creating high-velocity music. 4801 South Indiana Avenue is ear candy for guitar heads, but Connor delivers enough soul to make this album sonically nutritious. So perhaps it's best to categorize the album as something between sweets and health food; perhaps raisins.
Connor's narrative revolves around her guitar-playing videos going viral (which feels very different to write in 2021 then it did in 2019) and that serendipity is important for her career. It's how she wound up working with guitarist Joe Bonamassa, who co-produced 4801 South Indiana Avenue, and is a key connection in terms of amplifying her commercial reach. But before her YouTube break-out, she had a long, steady career; Connor knows how to frame her strengths. She's not afraid to play with different genres, but on 4801 South Indiana Avenue she keeps things relatively bluesy. Interestingly, she also didn't contribute any of her own songs to the album, a bit of a disappointment. Luckily, Connor's voice is distinctive enough that she makes this selection of songs her own.
"Destination" is an Assassins' track, Connor sounding almost metal as her slide guitar cuts through the song. The notes fly, but they're musical. It's like Connor is somehow sped-up. It's very easy to focus on the guitar, but Connor's singing voice is solid, interacting with background vocals provided by Jimmy Hall, Bonamassa, and co-producer Josh Smith. It's a typical Connor track, in that she's commanding the guitar in ways that so few can, without losing sight of the song.
Connor thrives in slower grooves. "Bad News," a Luther Allison tune, features soulful Connor vocals and soaring guitar. Here she uses the slide to replicate human-style string bends. The challenge of slide guitar is that there's a piece of metal or glass between the strings and the guitarist. That level of removal can make it feel less personal than directly fretting a string. Great slide guitarists successfully bridge that gap, and Connor is one of them. It's also worth noting Reese Wynans' (from Stevie Ray Vaughan's Double Trouble) gorgeous piano. It's hard to tell if this track is a slow blues or a power ballad—trust that either way it's a great tune.
"Please Help Me," a Hound Dog Taylor track, is an interesting choice, because Connor's playing is tight and lead-oriented while Taylor was raggedly rhythmic. But Connor taps into Taylor's wild energy. Her rhythm section locks in with her, something Taylor never had to contend with, but it's exciting hearing Connor embrace a sloppier-for-her style.
Connor recorded 4801 South Indiana Avenue in a few days, with many of these tracks first takes. You hear that in the energy of the songs, and the album often feels more like a live show than a record. It's tempting to wonder what the album would sound like with more deliberation, but that would imply that something is missing. And nothing's missing here. It's an album of good songs performed by a talented guitarist backed by a rock-steady backing band. You'd be happy to find this in your Halloween bucket.