“Blues Deluxe was my last shot after being dropped by two major record labels and my booking agent. It was then that my manager, Roy Weisman, had his first all in moment. We would go back into the studio and record. A record that would hopefully define the direction of whatever future career I might have.”
So recalled Joe Bonamassa some 20 years after Blues Deluxe became a best-seller, celebrating what the US government were branding “the year of the blues”. The world shifted on its axis, and these days Bonamassa plays to sold-out auditoriums, and not only puts out around two to three albums a year under his own name, but has put his money where his mouth is and set up his own record label, giving under represented blues artists and up-and-coming bands a safe place to call home.
Blues Deluxe Vol. 2 takes things back to square one. A set of covers and two originals. Not really so different from many of the guitarist’s albums in that regard, perhaps. But can you can capture lightning in a bottle twice, is the real question on modern blues fans’ lips? Probably not. That sense of desperation and playing for all you’re worth that a 20-something can aim for, can’t be achieved by a more mature man. Instead, we get intuition in knowing what works, we get craft and arrangement that brings those early skills now harnessed to their optimum potential (at least right now) to the table and makes them have a greater purpose on the songs performed, enriching the listener further. Or at least those should be the goals.
‘Twenty-Four Hour Blues’ wakes us up with a casually slinky band performance on this soulfully sexy break-up number, where Bonamassa excels vocally, both with a deeper tone to his voice and the sense of expression in the words uttered. The solo tips its hat to his hero B.B. King then veers to the acceptable side of guitar hero histrionics. The brassy dancing funk of ‘It’s Hard But It’s Fair’ is the perfect number as follow-up and to complete what’s needed is an accompanying video with Bonamassa throwing shapes across the dance floor but that ain’t gonna happen.
‘Well, I Done Got Over It’ is a more straight four-to-the-floor 12 bar blues, ‘I Want to Shout About It’ similarly so, but its upbeat shuffle and sing-along qualities more compelling while its mixture of organ, guitar and horn short-but-sweet solos keep you listening for what’s coming next. Things slow down for the piano rolling ‘Win-O’, and that’s pronounced “wino” of the drunken bum variety, so giving you an indication that this is a loser’s tale rather than being about a champion-among-men.
‘Hope You Realize It (Goodbye Again)’ is a new number, written by Bonamassa & Tom Hambridge and came out as a single in September. “Calvin Turner wrote a killer funky horn part, and we just did like a Tower Of Power take on it and made no apologies about it. It’s just the nature of the groove and everything else – You have to tip the hat,” Bonamassa said of the number at the time and comparisons to Tower Of Power should hardly need apologies, the R ‘n B band having scored a number of Stateside Billboard hit singles in their time, not least the funk classic ‘Don’t Change Horses (in the Middle of a Stream)’, while their horn section’s extra-curricular activities are possibly even more impressive, regularly appearing on hit albums by Little Feat and The Doobies Brothers plus appearances with Eric Clapton, Elton John, Stevie Nicks and others.
The truth is Bonamassa’s been increasing been adding old school funk to his blues formula. It may take a jazzier big-band horn section style but it’s been there in the back pocket ready to be pulled out on many of his more recent records. On ‘Hope You Realize It (Goodbye Again)’ there’s a driving rhythm section who set the groove, and while the horns here do owe their arrangement to Tower Of Power – where it’s equally worth listening out for Bonamassa’s guitar weaving in and out – it’s possibly in the backing vocals with their measured repeated chants that the similarities bear hit potential, while Bonamassa’s own lead vocals often slip into stylistic mannerism he may well have picked up from Wet Willie‘s Jimmy Hall, whose solo album he produced a while back.
‘Lazy Poker Blues’ is a Fleetwood Mac, from the original Peter Green period. Bonamassa gives the 60’s tune an upbeat contemporary rocking and rolling feel with a little country on the side. While the original is a paean to the joys of sitting round doing nothing with your woman of choice, opening with the lines, “Me and my baby don’t do nothing but lay around all day long,” in this here video age, Bonamassa’s rendition tells a different visual story, that you ought to check out. There’s nothing profound musically on this one, but it sure sounds like they were having fun recording it.
You can rarely go wrong with a bit of Albert King as far as I’m concerned, and here we have ‘You Sure Drive A Hard Bargain’ and from the moment Bonamassa’s guitar plays its first sustained note, I’m in. A shrugging, somewhat reluctant pace, the brass section keep on trucking and the main man belts out a great series of blistering notes along the way.
‘The Truth Hurts’ features both Kirk Fletcher and Josh Smith alongside Bonamassa, so the different voices, textures and sounds elicited on guitars again palpably demonstrate the fun had recording this record, particularly on the latter part where the singers stop taking parts throw in some gang vocals and then – at least by the sound of it – start playfully trying to outdo each other on guitar. Smith composed the other original featured on this album, and ‘Is It Safe To Go Home’ aptly closes Blues Deluxe Vol. 2 – This was also released as a single with accompanying video. Ostensibly another slow blues break-up number, the accompanying video tends to veer towards a more surreal David Lynch take in places, but it’s the guitar work that leaves the most lasting impression – From the sonic sustain of its intro, with delicate chinks laid in the song, to soloing that see him reminiscent in style to both Dave Gilmour and Steve Hackett at various sections during the six-minute plus number.
That Bonamassa puts out so much product (a horrible word, I know) can work against him, albeit I can relate to it being a business plan that works for him. Blues Deluxe Vol. 2 comes across as a happy time was had recording this, playing alongside a fine bunch of musicians who together have made this a classy album. It’s not going to change the world, nor Bonamassa’s career that much, but it will get played around this house a fair bit.
- Reviewed by Paul H Birch.
- Blues Deluxe Vol. 2 is released via J&R Adventures and is available now (from here).
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- Twenty-Four Hour Blues (Originally performed by Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland)
- It’s Hard But It’s Fair (Originally performed by Bobby Parker)
- Well, I Done Got Over It (Originally performed by Guitar Slim)
- I Want to Shout About It (Originally performed by Ronnie Earle & The Broadcasters)
- Win-O (Originally performed by Pee Wee Crayton)
- Hope You Realize It (Goodbye Again) (Written by Joe Bonamassa & Tom Hambridge)
- Lazy Poker Blues (originally performed by Fleetwood Mac)
- You Sure Drive A Hard Bargain (Originally performed by Albert King)
- The Truth Hurts (Originally performed by Kenny Neal)
- Is It Safe To Go Home (Written by Josh Smith)