304 North Cardinal St.
Dorchester Center, MA 02124
304 North Cardinal St.
Dorchester Center, MA 02124
Bluesdoodles rating: 5 Doodle Paws – a stupendous album of guitar-led, but song centric, goodness from a guitarist who just keeps getting better. Many genres inform this album but every one of them is built on the bedrock of the blues and every one of them is unmissable.
As a long time fan of Joe Bonamassa, the pre-release hype surrounding his new album, Time Clocks, did create a tiny tremor of trepidation…the press kept using words like “transitional” and suggesting a major departure from the JB I know and love.
That didn’t stop me ordering it, although I had to restrict myself to the UK ‘limited edition boxset’, as the truly mouth-watering bundles are only available on his website and it’s the eyes that water when shipping costs are factored in…so I had to put up with two coasters (looking like small vinyl records), three picks and ten postcards which will, like all of the other goodies with past purchases, remain unused in the box: no, I don’t know why it just has to be done! Anyway, delivery day arrived, cellophane removed with only a few curses and CD slotted into the Arcam…no further feelings of trepidation just elation as Mr Bonamassa hasn’t gone left field, he has continued to evolve and has produced, yet again, a new way of interpreting the blues in nine completely different, refreshing and supremely good ways. (There are ten tracks, but the first is a sub one minute intro to track one proper.)
The first thing to note is that there is, as the title suggests, a theme that runs through the album about time…the times gone by, the times we’re living now, the times to come and the time we have left. It’s not dark, just reflective and introspective and, to quote a couple of lines from the first single, “Been all the way around the world, there and back again a time or two, that road that leads me home brings me back to the blues.”
The one disappointment to a guitar geek like me is that Joe’s once customary and exhaustive list of the guitars he used on each track is missing (again!) so, after listening numerous times, I think he used Stratocaster, Telecaster and Les Paul though which models I do not know, run through, I’m guessing, his amp of choice, the Fender Deluxe… and probably two of them. Although Joe has so many guitars I could be very wrong indeed.
Anyway, to the music and that intro listed a track one: Pilgrimage is a musical invite to join him on this journey through time(s) and is the first appearance of that staple instrument in blues…the didgeridoo! Yes, the indigenous Australian created instrument that relies on circular breathing and vibrating lips to generate that distinctive and attractive ‘drone’. It plays in the background as JB’s guitar invites us on the journey and leads nicely into the first track proper: Notches is a co-write with Charlie Starr (he of Blackberry Smoke). This is, quite simply, a stunning piece of work that takes the blues and develops into an intense listening experience with the odd Celtic pattern weaving through. Vocally and instrumentally it has a power that gets stronger with every listen…an acoustic opening is echoed in the electric riff and, throughout the seven minutes, there isn’t a fault to be found and the solo is majestic…varied, crafted and beautifully toned.
The Heart That Never Waits sees the multi-talented James House rekindle his partnership with Joe (as he does on three others) and delivers a standard blues structure but with added ‘oomph’ courtesy of the deft chord work, the keys subtly backing it up, the tight drums, the backing vocals joining in the chorus that includes a line that sums up the ethos of the album…“It’s the train that never comes and the heart that never waits.” The solo, needless to say, is another stunner as JB combines bends, sustain, runs and vibrato to great effect.
The title track, with input from the Caveman, is another seven minutes that fly by…for the youngsters, a time clock is a mechanical device that stamped the time on your card when you started your shift at work, and again on leaving: hence ‘clocking on’ and ‘clocking off’ amongst other metaphors. Musically it is a loud/soft blend of epic proportions…a sort of Steinman does mild prog without any cliche-ridden stuff. A slide solo glides across the speakers behind the riff and leads to the next quiet section to allow the full-throttle crescendo of an ending with more dazzling fretwork behind the repeated chorus and then the countrified phrasing of the intro takes the song to one last power chord and the conclusion of a genius track.
Plucked strings (of the orchestral kind) introduce the powerful blues of Questions and Answers. A staccato riff backs a great vocal performance from Joe…and the way he pronounces “woman’ only jars once and then makes sense in the emotion of the track. The orchestration is subtle and exceedingly effective and even the bongos fit neatly into a complex and brilliant track. Mind’s Eye slows the pace with the only track that even remotely could be tagged as predictable: a powerful ballad with a solo that explores every string and fret in a display of skill and restraint and makes the predictable gain two letters (a ‘u’ and an ’n’!).
Next is a rock opera in seven and a half minutes: Curtain Call has the electric guitar and orchestra delivering a Kashmir-y intro before an acoustic guitar unpicks (pun intended) the true, unique melody. It continues to build and the band/orchestral marriage works so very well as the passion behind lines such as “Tears are hot, and the trail’s gone cold; those demons follow me wherever I go” are unleashed in a complex solo of wonder and some very cleverly mapped out backwards guitar that stays musical and logical for the dramatic ending.
The Loyal Kind is a continuation of the writing partnership that was so successful on Royal Tea; Bernie Marsden co-wrote what, at first, sounds like Blackmore and Ian Anderson got together again…but builds into a rock ballad that has pace and weight and I have a feeling DC would wish he could get his hands on it. Notable for a great bass line as well as the short, oh so clever solo. Hanging On a Loser is a collaboration with drummer, producer, genius Tom Hambridge. The two of them have come up with a barnstorming piano, slide, gospel and funky blues song that bounces and is immediately irresistible…so much to listen to as the band are obviously enjoying themselves and each add nuances that take a few listens to appreciate fully. The slide solo is ingenious as it traverses the neck (on two different guitars I think)…who cares it’s too short and marvellous!
Known Unknowns, written with Alyssa Bonagura who is a (mainly) country artist of renown who I first heard of on a writing credit on Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler’s solo album (the track was We’re All Somebody From Somewhere) but admit to no other reference: whatever, it defines ‘slow burner’ as the bluesy ballad beginnings build tension and emotion until JB unleashes a couple of paced rock solos of such quality that I kept rewinding to listen again and again, and then start again with track one.
So, is it “transitiona’? No, it is JB continually evolving and taking the blues into new avenues that are never cul-de-sacs. The whole album is a roaring success and builds brilliantly on his ‘no covers’ albums of late and, if I had to put it against his previous work, I’d say it is as strong as, as good as, perhaps even better than John Henry, Black Rock and Royal Tea…but as I listen to them all, who cares!?
Pilgrimage (Bonamassa, Shirley, Summerfield)
Notches (Bonamassa, Charlie Starr, Shirley)
The Heart That Never Waits (Bonamassa, James House)
Time Clocks (Bonamassa, Shirley)
Questions and Answers (Bonamassa, Shirley, House)
Mind’s Eye (Bonamassa, House)
Curtain Call (Bonamassa, Shirley, House)
The Loyal Kind (Bonamassa, Bernie Marsden)
Hanging On a Loser (Bonamassa, Tom Hambridge)
Known Unknowns (Bonamassa, Alyssa Bonagura)
Joe Bonamassa: guitar, vocals
Steve Mackey: bass
Anton Fig: drums, bongos, percussion
Lachey Doley: piano, organ
Mahalia Barnes, Juanita Tippins, Prinnie Stevens: backing vocals
Bobby Summerfield; keys, percussion, whistle
Kevin Shirley;/ keys, percussion
Rob McNeily: guitar
Jeff Bova and the Bovaland Orchestra
Bunna Lawrie: didgeridoo
Greg Morrow: percussion
Produced by Kevin Shirley, recorded in Germano Studios and the Hit Factory, New York and mixed by Bob Clearmountain
(iTunes brought me more Joey B: inevitably as fifteen studio albums and errr.. lots of live albums reside there. However, it also (eventually) delivered the much less well know Joe that was Joe Calicott and his 1930 acoustic blues song, Travelling Mama Blues…nice!)