Thursday, April 13, 2023

Joe Bonamassa - Tales Of Time

Although Joe Bonamassa tends to get pegged as a blues-rock guy, nowadays he’s as likely to spread his wings and explore broader classic rock horizons - as this live set recorded at the famous Red Rocks Amphitheatre confirms.  And when he sets the controls just right for a spot of widescreen hard rocking, the results are plenty satisfying.
The opening ‘Notches’ does the business very nicely, for example.  There’s an African sorta styling to the intro, with some evocative spoken word narration over quiet percussion, before the baton is handed to JB for some piercing, Gilmour-like guitar remarks.  Then it’s off and running, with a spiralling riff that’s shadowed and heavily reinforced by Calvin Turner’s bass.  That heavy
Joe Bonamassa tries to play phantom guitar neck
Pic by Jenise Jensen
groove is the prime attraction, though a Zepp-ish bridge also announces a pretty scorching Bonamassa solo, and if Reese Wynans’ swirling organ solo is so-so, it’s fair to say he more than makes up for it elsewhere.
If anything ‘Curtain Call’ is even better, as they throw the kitchen sink at it.  There’s stomping guitar and drums, then Arabic-sounding keys à la ‘Kashmir’, setting up the drama to come.  We get niftily counterpointed guitar and keyboard motifs, gutsy rhythm guitar and pseudo-baroque lead, culminating in a shooting star sound that I suspect comes from Bonamassa’s guitar, before returning to the Arabic theme.  And ‘Time Clocks’ is impressive too, mixing things up to good effect with slamming chords and country-esque picking around a grabber of a soaring, emphatic chorus.  It goes from thoughtful and subdued to to urgent and angsty, and some melodic, quasi-Celtic soloing from Bonamassa adds icing to the cake.
On the other hand, there are times when the epic approach sounds like Bonamassa repeating himself - ‘Mind’s Eye’ being a case in point, despite good moments of rolling drums and precise, needle-sharp guitar, and awestruck-sounding backing vocals.  Similarly ‘The Loyal Kind’ feels formulaic with its reflective opening giving way to an urgent riff and tense vocals, though the guitar solo feels more interesting, and better connected to the song, than in a couple of other cases.
It's a relief then, that other tracks offer some different vibes.  ‘The Heart That Never Waits’ has a bluesier feel, laid back and steady-as-she-goes, with some excellent Wynans ivory-tinkling and top drawer backing vocals from Mahalia Barnes, Jade MacRae and Danielle DeAndrea.  (Though the ubiquity of those female voices in Bonamassa’s recent repertoire, good as they are, also contributes to a sense of “same old same old” now and then.)  ‘Known Unknowns’, with its cooler, mellower opening, feels lighter and more soulful, with an airy guitar riff and some organ frosting from Wynans, and a tasteful guitar break leading to some variations on a theme – though Bonamassa, not for the first time, can’t resist throwing in a few high-velocity salvos whether they’re needed or not.
There’s no arguing with the closing ‘Evil Mama’ though, resurrected from the Redemption album.  Here we have (more of) a flat-out rocker, with a hard-revving, push-me-pull-you riff and a strong, hooky melody.  It charges along like an F1 car going through the gears, enhanced by a Wynans organ solo, and a piercing Bonamassa effort over rumbling bass and steady drums.
Tales Of Time is an enjoyable album, with lots going on to keep things interesting, and will doubtless please loyal Bonamassa fans no end.  If I seem to have some qualms now and then, well, maybe it’s not really meant to be listened to with a pen in hand, making notes.  Let the arrangements and the playing wash over you – with excellent sound quality, I might add – and those occasional moments of déjà vu may just drift past on the current.
Tales Of Time is released by Provogue Records on 14 April, on CD/DVD, CD/Blu-Ray, and 3LP 180gram Vinyl, and can be ordered here in the UK.

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