The unstoppable momentum continues in style…
Review by Gary Cordwell
Release date: 25 March 2016
It’s safe to say that Joe Bonamassa still polarizes opinion. Blues purists tend to look down their noses at him and yet he can sell out arenas with ease – his latest release, ‘Blues Of Desperation’ is this weeks ‘album of the week’ on Ken Bruces’ Radio 2 morning show…anyone else know of another contemporary blues artist with that much mainstream acceptance/clout? And to get there purely through talent, hard work and word of mouth is quite something in this day and age!
Bonamassa’s work rate is extraordinary – this is his 11th studio album, and let’s not forget his umpteen (official figure) live albums, collaborations with Beth Hart, part-time jam band Rock Candy Funk Party and, for a few fraught years, Black Country Communion. Plus a touring schedule that would have had the Ramones begging for time off!
This release follows on from 2014’s ‘Different Shades Of Blue’ as Bonamassa’s second album of completely original, self-penned material, although the band configuration this time is altered. An extra drummer has been added…to “ruffle Joes feathers”, according to long-time producer Kevin Shirley. There are also backing singers in tow…of whom there will be more later.
‘This Town’ is a light, rocking, upbeat opener. Joe setting out his stall early with a slick solo. And from here on in things get heavy. ‘Mountain Climbing’ is one of the albums stand outs, its huge riff propelled ever onward by the thunderous twin drummers. The backing vocals of Mahalia Barnes, Jade McRae and Juanita Tippins deserve special mention, giving this beast a completely unique feel plus grounding it in gospel/blues. They add soul and vulnerability to the bombast. If Zep were a gospel band….
‘Drive’ is a moody, late night diversion. It’s swampy, clammy twang calling to mind Chris’s Rea and Isaak. Then we hit the albums midsection, overloaded (or should that be overledded?) as it is with Zep-isms. ‘No Good Place For The Lonely’ has classy Jimmy Page string bending and an unusual, compelling riff. It builds slowly in intensity towards a glorious, stinging, emotive 3 minute solo. The title track is a virtual potted history of Zeppelin – Middle Eastern guitar figures lead into a classic stop-start riff underpinned by a Bonham stomp – and from there into an extended Theremin and ‘In My Time Of Dying’ swamp slide break. It’s epic in every sense…not very bluesy, mind.
Side Two (this feels like a proper old album) drops a little in intensity although it is no less interesting. ‘The Valley Runs Low’ offers a much needed breather by way of a gentle acoustic gospel ballad. Elsewhere we have upbeat, SRV barroom blues, overwrough epics where JB’s guitar soars above the backing singers and laid-back, nocturnal jazz, nightclub piano and sleazy, muted sax jostling for position. Bonamassa does this well…another side project Joe?
‘Distant Lonesome Train’ heralds the return of some seriously gnarly guitar – prowling between the left and right speakers before clubbing us with some distorted ZZ Top crunch. The album ends with a nod to his hero, the great B.B.King and a big, soulful, horn laden singalong that the man himself would surely have approved of.
So, not much in the way of desperation but a great deal of growing confidence. This is a heavier, more assured album than its predecessor. Bonamassa knows he can carry this on his own now and is doing so in style. His voice and playing are at an all-time high, fiery and impassioned. As ever, Shirley’s production sounds somewhat flat to these ears and his constant pushing and goading of the seemingly laid-back Bonamassa always sounds a tad unpleasant…one of those pushy talent contest moms, squeezing their young charge into another shiny suit. Mr.B has described him as being “cruel to be kind” – but then, would he be where he is without him? Probably not.
He still doesn’t quite convince as a genuine bluesman but maybe that’s just an age thing. The talent is certainly there and it’s a title you grow into. Give him time (and a few hard knocks) and he’ll get there. For now, enjoy this…and the plethora of live albums that are sure to follow. I predict 2 – a standard one at an iconic venue (a la Red Rocks or Radio City Music Hall) and a live document of the forthcoming British Blues Boom gigs. The unstoppable momentum continues in style.
8 out of 10
- This Train
- Mountain Climbing
- No Good Place For The Lonely
- Blues Of Desperation
- The Valley Runs Low
- You Left Me Nothin’ But The Bill And The Blues
- Distant Lonesome Train
- How Deep This River Runs
- Livin’ Easy
- What I’ve Known For A Very Long Time