Artist: Joe Bonamassa
Album: Different Shades Of Blue
Label: J & R Adventures, Inc.
Release Date: September 23, 2014
"Blues Rock Titan" (Guitar World), "The New King Of Blues" (Guitarist Magazine), and "the hardest working man in the business", describe Joe Bonamassa, for good reason. Bonamassa's career began onstage opening for B.B. King in 1989, when he was only 12 years old. The bluesman gained valuable experience by sharing the stage with other veteran musicians decades his senior. By 17, Bonamassa recorded an album with the American blues rock band, Bloodline, in advance of launching his solo career. Such milestones cast a solid foundation for an enduring presence in today's music scene. Accomplishments highlighted in the artist's bio reflect a mere tip of the "blues" iceberg, though.
Averaging 200 shows per year, Bonamassa tours the world, Spring and Fall, thrilling thousands of music lovers with his unique brand of intoxicating blues-rock. He has performed and collaborated with (or appeared on) a literal list of Who's Who in the music community (Eric Clapton, Johnny Winters, Jimmy Barnes, Jon Lord, Ian Anderson, John Hiatt, Paul Rodgers, Black Country Communion, Rock Candy Funk Party, to name but a few). He has twelve #1 Billboard Blues Albums (more than any other artist) and received his first Grammy nomination in 2013 for his collaboration with Beth Hart on the duo's sophomore album Seesaw. Bonamassa's 2013 solo acoustic project An Acoustic Evening at the Vienna Opera House was nominated by the Blues Music Awards for Best DVD and his 2009 DVD Live From The Royal Albert Hall recently received RIAA Platinum Certification.
Through the years, Bonamassa has given back to his fans by signing memorabilia and posing for photos. He truly wants to thank his fans for their loyalty and dedication. Because of their unrelenting enthusiasm on social media, the guitarist's reputation has grown from thousands to 2.2 million Facebook "Likes". As a devout fan, I can attest to the lengths which Bona-fans will go to display their unwavering support. They act like one big, happy family, stretching arms to all corners of the globe.
Impressively, Bonamassa has amassed a catalog of 15 solo albums released in the last 13 years, all on his own label, J & R Adventures. Those albums include a blend of original compositions and covers, until now.
Joe took 2013 off from releasing any new studio material, "a rarity in the tireless bluesman's career", and instead spent time in Nashville writing with Jonathan Cain (Journey), known for hits "Who's Crying Now," "Open Arms," and "When You Love A Woman," James House (Diamond Rio, Dwight Yoakam, Martina McBride), and Jerry Flowers (Keith Urban).
"The writers really inspired me, and having access to really great lyricists and songwriters made it such a great experience," said Bonamassa. "To say my whole creative world was recharged is an understatement."
Different Shades Of Blue features 11 tracks recorded at Studio At The Palms in Las Vegas, NV. Producer, mentor, and friend, Kevin "Caveman" Shirley, who has overseen the last 15 Bonamassa projects including solo projects and collaborations with Black Country Communion and Beth Hart, is there to bring out the best in Bonamassa's sound. "It's definitely my favorite Joe Bonamassa record to date," said Shirley. "It's an album that deserves to be listened to in its entirety."
In an effort to compliment Bonamassa's signature guitar style and vocals, a newly-revised band of master musicians were hand selected by Shirley. Appearing for the first time is Reese Wynans (organ, piano. Veteran players Carmine Rojas (bass), Michael Rhodes (bass), Anton Fig (drums, percussion), Lenny Castro (percussion), Lee Thornburg (trumpet, trombone) make their return. Ron Dziubla (saxophone), the Bovaland Orchestra (strings), and Doug Henthorn and Melanie Williams (background vocals) complete the ensemble.
Track By Track
As I dare to pinpoint how best to define Joe Bonamassa's signature guitar sound and style, terms "methodical", "technically proficient", "tone", "electrifying", and "epic", come to mind. For me, part of the allure is compelling songwriting and storytelling, a pleasing voice and, yes, his mastery of the six-string. Bonamassa's solos are played to near perfection with an intensity that commands the listener to live in the "now"-- temporarily shielded from the outside world. Yes! It's true: Bonamassa's shows are mind-blowing, significantly more than just a good concert. For some fans, the experience borders on spiritual. Still, what about the gear?
Bonamassa is obsessed with gear. Rare, vintage stuff, too. Always included in the liner notes is a detailed listing of instruments and amps. It's there for those who are interested, other gear-geeks--of which there are many, or for those who care to look. So, when reading this particular albums listing of Gibsons and Fenders (16 electric guitars in all, some named, some not), I noticed that each piece dates 1959 - 1965. Suddenly, it dawns on me: Bonamassa's signature sound is partially derived from the back story of the gear itself. He's an avid history buff, and collector, too. It makes him tick: a passion so deeply rooted that it could explain why he devotes countless hours to discovering every plausible combination of notes. I can only imagine the excitement felt in holding or playing one of those rare gems; or the inquisitive facial expression on Joe's face when examining its wear and tear; or the pondering questions running through his head: Where have you been? How do you play?
It's about passion, conviction, and the gear...
New for the album: typed lyrics (Thanks, Joe.) and more story lines centered around love, loss, and relationships.
To jump start the album, Bonamassa selected "Hey Baby (New Rising Sun)", a Jimi Hendrix instrumental which is indicative of preludes used at live shows to set up more popular tracks such as, "Oh Beautiful". The first of four songs co-written with James House, "Oh Beautiful", immediately awaken the senses as bass dense riffs and thunderous drum strikes build tension, accelerating to decelerate, weaving around abbreviated verse until reaching the epi-center, where Bonamassa's frenzied fretwork whip up psychedelic vibrations varying in length and potency; scratching and ear-piercing shrills, too. It's ferocious, an adrenaline rush.
Back to back, "Love Ain't A Love Song" and "Living On The Moon", demolish all boundary lines, in an all-out, boogie-woogie storm of irresistible, funk-filled grooves that'll drive believers to the aisle; foot stomping and casting down the blues demon along the way. "Heartache Follows Wherever I Go" defies explanation, as Bonamassa's soloing delivers a one-two, jaw-dropping, knockout punch on this musical bruiser.
"Never Give All Your Heart" shifts decades to the 1970's, to the (blues-based) classic rock love-ballads of its time. "She left a letter on the table. Said she'd be home by five. The smell of old coffee lingers on my mind." This songwriting style ideally suits the bluesman, as his silky-smooth tone rises to greet the chorus' swell, adding emphasis to the pivotal transition. "Never give all your heart to love. I cry to the sky above. Never give all your heart to love." Bonamassa's sultry guitar solo heats up to a fiery blaze, and shines as brightly as Bad Company's Shooting Star.
"I Gave Up Everything For You, 'Cept The Blues" overflows with twinkling piano, jutting drums strikes, and Doo-Wop styled backing vocals, reminiscent of a good ol' Chuck Berry romp.
Single and title track, "Different Shades Of Blue", reads like a harsh reality check on life. "When you got nothing left to lose. Might sound good but I'm not sure that's true." Bonamassa's vocal is first-rate; the sentiment will stab at your heart and soul, over and again, until you relent. "You carry the pain around and that sees you through. The different shades of blue." Watch the official music video, below.
"Get Back My Tomorrow", penned with Jerry Flowers and Jeffrey Steele, sees an up tempo traveling blues groove; a bit country, a bit rootsy, too. The story spills out Bonamassa's lips, "It's a bitter pill to swallow. Can you taste the pain and sorrow?". Yet, it screams rock 'n roll. "Go on and beg and steal and borrow. But that won't get back my tomorrow." Similarly to songs above, "Trouble Town", has all the necessary ingredients to rouse a crowd to their feet. I can hear those hecklers, now. "Just Play It, Joe. Play it!"
Written exclusively by Bonamassa, "So, What Would I Do", features a piano pattern suggestive of Ray Charles' "Georgia" or Bonamassa's own "Asking Around For You". The lament is an authentic gentleman's blues tune and a really classy way to end the record.
To say this album is superb is an understatement. Bonamassa is a guitar-slinging maverick-- a modern-day Pied Piper keeping the blues alive, one note at a time. The emotionally-charged, rhythmic blues dialogue, Different Shades Of Blue, is the 37 year old bluesman's boldest, most provocative statement to date, a sonic journey worth celebrating for years to come.
Yours in music,
Deb (FromMaine) Hebert
A few links:
An interview with GRAMMY News
Check if Joe's coming to your town:
Photos courtesy of J & R Adventures, Chris Joles of Maine Music News for Bluebirdreviews, and Deb Hebert. All rights reserved. 2014.