Chances are that if you’ve been to Chicago’s popular blues club, Kingston Mines, you’ve seen Joanna Connor perform. You also haven’t seen many recordings of Connor recently as it has been a long drought of 14 years. She took time off from recording and touring to raise her daughter. However, her local gigging to the frequency of 200 nights a year has served to really hone her guitar chops to the point where her improvisational style melds blues, jazz, and rock. Her incendiary slide playing is absolutely breath-taking. For a quick reference, go to YouTube and plug in her name. You’ll see this woman in a purple dress at the North Atlantic Blues Festival deliver in less than 3 minutes some of the most scorching slide guitar you’ve ever seen. The video went viral and Connor has this to say about it, “That video has gone around the world a few times getting millions of views and being re-posted in Japan, Russia, and all over Europe. …I think people loved the combination. Here’s a woman who looks like somebody’s mom, and she’s playing like this. What I remember most was that it was 90 degrees that day, so I was wearing the coolest dress I had.”
With that kind of exposure this is a rather highly anticipated recording. Its ten tracks carry all the aforementioned elements while touching on soul, gospel, and funk, too. There’s not much that Connor cannot do. She wrote eight of the ten with Marion Lance Lewis, a multi-instrumentalist and mainstay of her live band. Connor sings like she wields her axe, fiercely with a “take no prisoners” approach. The opener, “It’s a Woman’s Way” and “By Your Side” feature her trademark slide. She takes the slow blues route on “We Stayed Together,” trading some verses with Lewis. She treats Jill Scott’s “Golden” with the right jazz-soul feel as it morphs into funk over her spoken part. The bayou-inspired “Swamp Swim” shows the improvisational side of her playing especially when offset by the guitar heavy “Halsted Street.” The centerpiece of the album is “Heaven” which brings in the gospel with horns and the Lewis Family Singers.. Connor says, “I wrote that as more of a political song with West African feel, but Lance gave it more of a gospel sound. His brothers are pastors and have churches so they brought that kind of feel to it.” The much covered “Skies Are Crying’ sounds like a completely different tune here. Blues purists may shy away but if you’re seeking amazing guitar talent, you need to check out the string-bending, mind-blowing Joanna Connor.