Tuesday, October 10, 2023

Joe Bonamassa - Blues Deluxe Vol.2

And so Joe Bonamassa releases his second album of the year.  But where the live album Tales Of Time was (mostly) an epic, quasi-proggy sounding animal, Blues Deluxe Vol.2 does (mostly) what it says on the tin, as Bonamassa goes back to his blues roots.  And the first thing to be said is that this collection of eight covers and two originals is a perfectly enjoyable affair.  However . . .
What I like about it is that much of the time Bonamassa and his gang sound like they’re having a real good time.  Guitar Slim’s ‘Well, I Done Got Over It’, for example, is honest to goodness,
Joe Bonamassa leans into the blues
Pic by Adam Kennedy
swinging fun, with behind-the-beat drums from Lamar Carter and strolling bass from Calvin Turner, plus schmoozing horns and a neat shift in the backing to underpin JB’s solo.  The following ‘I Want To Shout About It’ underlines the point, hinting at Sam Cooke and even Fats Domino in its swaying soulfulness, all burbling bass, lazy beat and good-time backing vocals – but amped up into an R’n’B swinger of a very Springsteen-esque disposition, with Federici-like organ from Reese Wynans, sparkling guitar play from Bonamassa, and hell, even a sassy sax solo from Paulie Cerra to brighten your day.
‘Lazy Poker Blues’ simplifies things even further, shuffling along briskly and giving a jolt of 21st century electricity to the Fleetwood Mac boogie, with some piercing guitar from Joey boy and barroom piano stylings from Wynans to generate even more of a party mode.  Meantime ‘Hope You Realize It (Goodbye Again)’ goes uptempo in a different, funkier direction, with lots of drive and oomph powered along by Turner’s motoring bass, before downshifting into a jazzier, horn-inflected bridge to introduce Bonamassa’s solo.
When it comes to slower stuff, the album opens with ‘Twenty-Four Hour Blues’, originally recorded by Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland.  And very good it is too, with sweeps of strings recalling Bland’s stylings, with Bonamassa’s confident delivery demonstrating just how much his vocals have improved over the years.  All the same, he can’t quite match the languid soulfulness Bobby had at his disposal, though he does make up for it with some sizzling soloing.  In a similar vein, while Paul Rodgers would surely make a better fist of Albert King’s ‘You Sure Drive A Hard Bargain’, Bonamassa has a good enough shot at it for you to imagine it being an outtake from Rodgers’ Royal Sessions album.
‘Win-O’ is a proper slow blues, in a reflective rather than elegiac vein.  However – remember that however up top? – I could live without the horns that pop up to gild the lily with squirting interjections now and then.  And same applies to ‘The Truth Hurts’, a Kenny Neal song on which both Kirk Fletcher and Josh Smith turn up to supply guest vocals and guitar, but which suffers from a so-so arrangement on which the horns again take up too much space, distracting from the contributions of the three guitar honchos, which should surely be the USP of the track.
Also however, and not for the first time, I feel like Bonamassa has got overly used to the presence of backing vocals filling out songs.  They make good contributions at times here, but are they really necessary on ‘Is It Safe To Go Home’, the closing track written by Josh Smith? It’s an archetypal Bonamassa epic slow blues, on which he delivers a good, committed vocal, but those swelling backing voices and the strings (or string-sounding keys) take it away from the rootsy mood and back towards the widescreen stylings of Tales Of Time.
So like I said, Blues Deluxe Vol.2 is a perfectly enjoyable album.  But I think it’s time for Joe Bonamassa to let go of a few over-familiar elements of his recent sound, and shake things up more.  Go on Joe, and surprise us!
Blues Deluxe Vol.2 is out now, and can be ordered here.

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