It may be a worst kept secret, but the SLeep EAZY’s is the instrumental project of Joe Bonamassa and his regular crew: and yes, the strange use of capitalisation is their choice. As an aside, I’d love to know if the shop on the cover existed and was a true inspiration or if it was designed just for this release because it looks wonderful…the Internet couldn’t find it, but it looks the sort of emporium that would be a delight to visit and I prefer to think it is out there somewhere.
What isn’t a secret is that I am a huge Bonamassa fan and possess every legitimate recording he’s ever produced, including his numerous collaborations with Rock Candy, Beth Hart and BCC. That also means I’ve spent a daft amount of money in his online shop as this is the only way to get all of the extras…although I did resist the beach towel package last time and will miss out on the tin sign this time as the shipping costs from the states are eye-watering for the larger items (plus my wife thinks I have enough mugs/picks/pick tins/stickers/coasters etc…).
Anyway, this latest project started life as a tribute to one of JB’s mentors and influences; the late, much under-appreciated, guitarists guitarist, Danny Gatton. By the time it was finished however, it also featured other underrated writers and players as well as TV and film themes and one I’m not sure of…is JB showing a love of Frank Sinatra or the writing skills of Ervin Drake who composed the Sinatra song that closes the album? By the way, don’t be misled by some web sites suggesting “JB does Motorhead”, the track in question is the by the King of the Rumble, Link Wray.
The first track however is for Danny Gatton, a guitarist who never conformed and, when you listen to his early work, you can see why his self-proclaimed “red-neck jazz” was inspirational for many of today’s players. Gatton’s Fun House is just that…a horn and keys laden dance tune with an irresistible melody that JB leaves to the band but supports it in a subtle, clever and effective way. The wonderful Reese Wynans then delivers a quality solo on the Hammond before the sax solo from Paulie that fits nicely and leads into restrained and brilliant guitar that is such a clever homage to Danny. Track two takes the work of Hank Garland who is probably best known for his work with Elvis, although his ‘solo hit’ Sugarfoot Rag is an inspiration in itself. Here however, JB covers a song called Move…incidentally the name of a compilation of his solo works, should you wish to dig deeper. It is a damnably catchy, clever and rapid piece that has a xylophone (electronic or otherwise) that conjures up the time so well. Reese again shines and then the jazzy guitar of JB is simply stunning…it reminds me of Django as much as Hank…off the wall, not rock or blues but brilliant: plus we get a nifty and crafted drum solo from Anton making it even better. Ace Of Spades is next and, as I said, this is not that one…it is a brilliant update of the Link Wray classic. JB shows how the playing of Link led to the power chords of later years and it is a delight to listen to as the band get right behind and build everything around the lovely bass line of Michael. The surprise is that, although there are no distinct solos, the whole thing has so much to listen to that even I didn’t mind. Jimmy Bryant gets the JB touch next as the eastern themes of Ha So waft through the speakers (in today’s climate some may think it ‘un-PC’…just listen without prejudice and in the spirit and time in which it was written…I love it!) The guitar playing is beyond deft and, having tried to replicate even the ‘simple’ bits on my Musicman, I am even more impressed and convinced of JB’s skill and my own ineptitude…I love this playful little tune and the country stylings of JB’s approach mean I have this on repeat. Next up is a TV theme I’m unfamiliar with…apparently Hawaiian Eye was a US detective series that ran from 1959 until 1963. It must be one of the few not to reach our shores and a possible inspiration for one that did…”Book ‘em Danno”. I’m sure it is a bit heavier than the original and the opening bars do sound familiar…regardless, the horny riff and then the beachy bridge make it yet another accessible and great piece to listen to. JB’s solo is inspired and uses so many different techniques that I gave up counting. John Barry’s Bond theme needs no introduction but the great thing about this is, after a Roger Moore voiceover, the way JB takes the melody and keeps it recognisable and yet does something new with it. It is fascinating and has another stunning solo to boot then the background vocals at the end to give it a real touch of John Barry…I admit I haven’t heard the theme for the latest Bond film, but this should have been it! Polk Salad Annie is another famous song, this time from the pen of Tony Joe White, although, to my ear, the instrumentation is closer to Elvis’s version that Tony’s. Anyway, “Chick-a-bom, Chick-a-bom-bom” from the vocalists identifies this straight off and you will be joining in. The harmonica solo from Jimmy Hall is class and the whole band is right with him. Then, inevitably, the JB solo shows yet more clever interpretation and varied techniques that nearly had me launching my guitar through the window with frustration. Blue Nocturne is by King Curtis, the saxophonist who you will have heard if not heard of…listen to the Coasters Yakety Yak or Charlie Brown and his inherent sense of timing (and fun) are obvious. This track was the b-side of one of his solo hits, Soul Stew. Here JB plays it as a slow blues with crystal tones backed perfectly, as always, by that formidable band. The exchanges between Hammond and guitar means I would buy the album just for this exquisite track as the techniques JB employs bring feel, passion and dexterity to a song I would never have thought to listen to. Final track is the Sinatra song I mentioned. Ervin Drake wrote countless lyrics and tunes from the 40s’ on…including memorable ones like I Believe and Good Morning Heartache, with the odd weird one…I Wuv A Rabbit, for example! This is a fascinating take on It Was A Very Good Year, and the acoustic guitar is handled with such expressiveness that I quickly forgot about Sinatra and just sat in wonder at the skill imbued in the ‘duet’ of acoustic and lead electric…a slow but brilliant way to end a surprising and quality packed album.
How to sum this up….well, to a fan like me, to a guitar freak/geek like me, this an absolutely essential purchase. To some it may not be essential but it is still a very worthwhile addition to any collection as the moods and emotions running through the album will be welcome to anyone’s ears. Give it a listen (and I do mean listen) and you will be hooked.
Bluesdoodles rating: to like-minded fans: stupendous but still wonderful if you’re not!
- Fun House (Danny Gatton)
- Move (Hank Garland)
- Ace Of Spades (Link Wray)
- Ha So (Jimmy Bryant)
- Hawaiian Eye (unattributed TV Theme)
- Bond (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service) (John Barry)
- Polk Salad Annie (Tony Joe White)
- Blue Nocturne (King Curtis)
- It Was A Very Good Year (Frank Sinatra written by Ervin Drake)
Joe Bonamassa: guitars
Anton Fig: drums, percussion
Michael Rhodes: bass
Reese Wynans: keyboards
Lee Thornburg: trumpet
Paulie Cerra: saxophone
Jade MacRae and Juanita Tippins: background vocals
Jimmy Hall: harmonica
John Jorgenson: violin
Produced by Joe Bonamassa
(The iTunes run on track provided some nice nostalgia as Itchycoo Park from the Small Faces had me smiling and bouncing along.)