After an avalanche of live albums and side projects, Joe Bonamassa’s Different Shades Of Blue is actually the ubiquitous guitarist’s first solo album since 2012’s Driving Towards The Daylight. That means he’s had time to write 10 original new songs, raising the opportunity to release his first album not to include a cover.
Bizarrely, he shoots down that option by making track one a 79-second version of the Hendrix studio jam Hey Baby (New Rising Sun) and turning the running order up to 11. The more you play the album, the less sense that makes.
The other 10 songs come from writing sessions in Nashville with Jonathan Cain and country singer-songwriters James House and Jerry Flowers. With hits stretching from Journey to Dwight Yoakam and Keith Urban, they’re an impressive trio of song doctors. Their brief, as the album title suggests, was to construct a tour of various styles of the genre.
Produced, as usual, by Kevin Shirley, this also pays homage to Bonamassa’s own influences within ‘blues’ music. Opener Oh Beautiful! leans on a riff that is Zeppelin-esque in places. Never Give All Your Heart has a guitar intro that evokes Paul Kossoff and a piano refrain (by Reese Wynans, ex-Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble) suggesting Bad Company/late Free. And I Gave Up Everything For You, ’Cept The Blues is a Stevie Ray shuffle reborn.
There’s great singin’ and great playin’ all over. But you don’t go to Nashville to make an album that’s stripped and raw as a carpet burn. You bring in your top muso buddies – Bonamassa regulars Carmine Rojas and Michael Rhodes play bass, Anton Fig is once again the drummer – and make something super-slick. But as excellent as Wynan’s playing is (on both piano and Hammond organ), he’s on every song and there are horns on most of them too. The upshot is that it does sound a little overdressed. Still, the aforementioned Oh Beautiful! and Never Give All Your Heart are both impossible to resist, and Love Ain’t A Love Song is sensationally funky with a great solo. The title-track – a Clapton-like mid-tempo ballad – is good too, with some stylish acoustic picking beneath the electric lead lines.
If you own and love other recent Bonamassa records you know what to expect and won’t be disappointed. But for more casual listeners, the big-band approach may grow a bit overwrought and leave you hankering for those no-frills Rory Gallagher albums.