Thursday, September 13, 2018

Joe Bonamassa - Redemption

Bonamassa is back. Like he ever went away, right? And what he’s offering this time, after numerous other forms of “product”, is Redemption, his first studio album of all new material since 2016’s Blues Of Desperation.
Now, JB has his acolytes, who apparently regard him as the non-pareil of blues rock guitar.  And he has his knockers, who seem to regard him as a soul-less fake.  Me?  I think he’s released some pretty damn enjoyable solo albums.  Some have resonated with me less than others –Driving Towards The Daylight, for example - but maybe that’s because I didn’t give them sufficient attention at the time.  I reckoned Blues Of Desperation was a pretty handy outing though, so how does Redemption shape up as its successor?
Joe Bonamassa gets all sensitive and reflective
Pic by Marty Moffatt
Well, I’m not sure it has quite the freshness and depth of its predecessor, but it’s still a solidly entertaining affair.  Joe and chums certainly demonstrate a sense of humour as the album opens with Anton Fig crashing through an iconic Led Zep drum intro before they plunge into a grungy chord as a springboard for the jabbing riff of ‘Evil Mama’.  Cheeky sod.  In turn that riff is subjected to call and response with horns, bass and whatever, before heading off into funky, horn-laden territory over rumbling bass from Michael Rhodes, and pounding drums.  I like it.
The fun stuff continues with the revved up, buzzing boogie of ‘King Bee Shakedown’.  With horns a-parpin’ again, a touch of rockabilly in the middle eight, and a Thorogoodly slide solo – if you get my drift – it’s a track that could easily inspire some hectic swing dancing.
‘Molly O’’ is the sort of song that Bonamassa has made a specialty over the years, with an epic aesthetic, a sweeping melody and an Arabesque riff, decorated by some slide guitar in the background.  Featuring a lyric based on a Titanic-style story, it’s a big and coherent moment in the album. To my mind it’s also better than the title track, another dynamic affair on which the various components may be interesting, but don’t seem to create an organic whole.  An acoustic opening is embellished by subtle keys from Reese Wynans, before shifting into a jagged, twisting riff.  It builds to a peak in a squall of guitar, which finds some direction just in time, leading to a downbeat, reflective segment.  The chorus also features swelling backing vocals, a common feature in JB’s recent recordings, but I question the value of them here.
And on a similar note, could a more stripped-down approach have been taken to the preceding ‘Just ‘Cos You Can Don’t Mean You Should’, without the use of horns?  It features a tough beat and strong guitar fills, plus an organ solo from Wynans, but feels overlong, with an overdone shredding segment. A tip should have been taken from its title, to my mind.
‘Deep In The Blues Again’ and the closing ‘Love Is A Gamble’ are mainstream stuff, the former with a prickly guitar motif akin to what Alex Lifeson delivered on Rush’s ‘The Weapon’, a stomping backbeat and a spiky solo, the latter straight up blues with fiery guitar licks, a wailing solo and woozy horns.
There’s more interesting fare elsewhere though.  ‘The Ghost Of Macon Jones’ is a country-
"Hell's bells - this guitar weighs a ton!"
Pic by Rick Gould
tinged duet with Nashville’s Jamey Johnson, with a hint of the Celtic over a skipping rhythm, and another interesting lyric with a Johnny Cash-like narrative.  More directly enjoyable is ‘Pick Up The Pieces’, with its boozy, N’Awlins vibe.  Essentially it’s ersatz Tom Waits, with amusing, down-at-heel lyrics, spot on honky tonk piano and moaning sax.  ‘I’ve Got Some Mind Over What Matters’ is a lurching chunk of R&B fun, which when you get down to it is a second cousin twice removed to Ian Hunter’s ‘All-American Alien Boy’.  A witty catalogue of moral failure and domestic disharmony, it draws on barroom piano, discordant guitar chords, and some spectacular splashes of delayed reaction cymbal from Fig.
More solemnly ambitious perhaps is ‘Self-Inflicted Wounds’.  Slow and spacious, its solo closes with neat use of guitar harmonies, and there are more licks to embellish the closing chorus.  That though, is nothing compared to the daring displayed on the penultimate track, ‘Stronger Now In Broken Places’.  Startlingly subdued, with little more to the arrangement than gentle, sparse picking from Bonamassa and expertly sensitive keys, it mingles melancholy and resilience in dramatic, triumphant fashion.
As so often with Bonamassa, less would be more.  With twelve songs stretching to five minutes over the hour, Redemption would be a leaner, stronger album if a couple of the lesser tracks had been jettisoned.  All the same, it gets a resounding thumbs up for several slices of imaginative, entertaining quality.  Now go take a six month vacation will ya Joe, and give us all a breather?

Redemption is released by Provogue in Europe and J&R Adventures in North America on 21 September.

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